Omnichannel vs Multichannel: What’s the difference, and how to get started on Shopify Plus

| By Kelly Vaughn

Omnichannel vs Multichannel: What’s the difference, and how to get started on Shopify Plus

In today’s world of ecommerce, brands don’t simply exist just on their online store anymore. Between social media, email, retail outlets and marketplaces, brands are often working across several channels to sell their products and engage customers. That’s when the terms multichannel and omnichannel start to pop up.

But what’s the difference? And which is better? We’re going to look at both, and how merchants can develop omnichannel experiences with Shopify Plus.

What is multichannel?

Multichannel ecommerce puts your products and the needs of each channel at the forefront. Each channel is managed separately, that have little in the way of interaction; they’re treated as separate silos essentially. For example your online storefront and physical retail store are treated as two separate experiences that will have little to do with each other. Equally the way you treat social media, marketplaces, and owned marketing is as separate experiences. An important thing to note is that channels might still have some overlap; for example on-site interactions and email. 

What this allows you to do is to test different strategies that suit how each channel works best, and then see what sort of approach resonates best with your target audience. If for example you notice more engagement with your brand on Amazon, then you can start to look at how to maximize opportunities there. Your channels aren’t all interconnected, so if one isn’t driving conversions you can pull it back and focus your efforts elsewhere. This gives you flexibility in your strategy, while still making sure that you’re interacting with your customers on different platforms.

What is omnichannel?

While your products and the individual channel sits at the centre of a multichannel approach, omnichannel instead puts the customer in the spotlight. It gives customers a highly personalized experience that flows between the channels they use so they can buy your products wherever they are. The strategy touches multiple points throughout the customer lifecycle and purchasing journey, to target them with content that resonates with them best and makes it easy for them to purchase the way they prefer. Those touchpoints include your online storefront, social media, SMS, and even brick-and-mortar retail. 

Let’s have a look at what a basic omnichannel interaction might look like for a store selling t-shirts.

1 - A customer browses your store, adds a couple of t-shirts to their cart, but ultimately doesn’t purchase

2 - They get an abandoned cart email a few hours later with an incentive

3 - They’re on Facebook and see an ad about their abandoned cart

4 - Later they browse Instagram, and are shown a series of product recommendations based on their browsing history and items similar to what they have in their cart

5 - The customer returns to your site, but starts looking at other products

6 - Ads across social media change to suit what other products they’re now looking at, offering an incentive

You’re meeting that customer at different touchpoints, showing them content that’s personalized to their interests on the channels they’re using. 

So how does this work when you start adding brick-and-mortar retail into the equation? A basic example would be offering curbside or in-store pickup options for online orders, or showing if an item is in-stock at your physical outlet. Or tailoring ads to show customers where their nearest store is if they want to take a look in person. A more complex example of how to create a smooth offline to online omnichannel experience would be if a customer comes into your retail outlet looking for a specific product but it’s out of stock. However, it’s available online from your warehouse. The usual multichannel approach would mean the response might be to tell the customer this, and then expect them to go online and order the product there. This might run the risk of losing the customer as they might not go online to make the purchase seeing it as an inconvenience, or they may see something else at a different store nearby that suits their needs before they get a chance to go online. However with an omnichannel approach, the sales assistant would simply order the product to be shipped directly to the customer so they can still make the purchase in-store as they intended. The customer’s preferences and needs are put at the centre, with the merchant facilitating the sale where the customer is at that moment in time. 

The major benefit of omnichannel is that it delivers what customers want from their online experiences - personalization. Over 80% of consumers say they’re more likely to make a purchase when offered a personalized experience, and 71% feel frustrated when there’s a lack of personalization. Omnichannel also ensures that customers have a much more consistent experience across channels; they’re not being shown separate content on each channel, the omnichannel approach takes into account the spillover between and their interactions across channels. They’re shown content they want to see, products they’re interested in, and incentives they’ll actually engage with. In fact, most consumers are happy for brands to use their data to provide these experiences, with 90% saying they’re happy to share behavioral data if it makes the shopping experience cheaper or easier.

Which is better for ecommerce merchants?

There’s no real right or wrong answer as to which option is best for ecommerce merchants, as it all comes down to a few key factors. The primary factor is going to be what resources merchants are able to allocate to developing an omnichannel strategy. It requires investment in the planning of an omnichannel experience, as you need to think about the customer lifecycle and how to ensure no matter which channel they’re on they’re going to get that seamless, personalized experience. It also requires a change in processes and some business operations especially if you’re trying to incorporate your brick-and-mortar stores into that strategy and are using a legacy POS system that handles inventory separately. 

In general, however, omnichannel is fast becoming the way forward for ecommerce. Especially following how the landscape of ecommerce changed as a result of the Covid1-19 pandemic, customer expectations over how they shop have changed dramatically. Customers don’t see your brand the same way you do where it has all its different channels and sales sources. They see it all as the one entity and the same brand. Your storefront, your brick-and-mortar store, social media, email - these are all seen as the same thing and they expect to have a collective brand experience. Therefore you want to give them what they expect, so as to maximize the opportunity your store has to clinch the sale.

Selling omnichannel with Shopify Plus

We’d mentioned above some potential snags with adapting to an omnichannel strategy, primarily the effort in ensuring a seamless, interconnected strategy alongside resources and brick-and-mortar. A solution for many enterprise level businesses looking to take advantage of omnichannel marketing is migrating to Shopify Plus

Shopify Plus is a powerful ecommerce platform that has a wealth of omnichannel support for merchants who want to develop a really robust omnichannel strategy. Let’s look at some of the ways in which merchants can use Shopify Plus to facilitate a highly optimized omnichannel customer experience that’s both unique and scalable.

Deliver a great experience on any device

Omnichannel isn’t just about the different sales channels, but also about the different methods your customers use to interact with your brand. Mobile accounts for 65% of all ecommerce traffic, but just 53% of sales. Moreover, consumers are likely to spend more on desktop than on mobile. This means that a seamless experience between mobile and desktop is crucial to a successful online store. All Shopify Plus stores are built for performance and optimization on any device, giving customers a seamless experience as they transition between desktop and mobile. 

Keep everything connected

One of the primary challenges with omnichannel is being able to manage all the different channels you want to include. 73% of consumers use multiple channels throughout their purchasing journey, and they expect your store to accommodate that. Shopify Plus gives merchants access to over 100 social media channels and 80 online marketplaces, all the while managing your products from the one place.

Deliver a seamless offline to online experience

Where brick-and-mortar retail plays into your omnichannel strategy is crucial. Customers want brands to blur the lines between offline and online, and allow them to easily and seamlessly combine both. Shopify Plus allows for a number of features that make this experience a breeze such as:

  • Click-and-collect features so customers can purchase online and pick-up in-store
  • Purchase in-store, and ship directly to the customer
  • Online returns and exchanges that allow customers to start a return regardless of where they purchased the product
  • Browse in-store, buy online; remind customers of the items they liked in-store when they go back online

Shopify’s POS gives merchants the power of data to tailor experiences in-store and online for each individual customer. Using both their in-store and online behaviour ensures that all a customer’s touchpoints with a brand are taken into account for their omnichannel experience. You can tailor online product recommendations based on purchases made in-store, add reward points for their in-store purchase to their online loyalty program account, and send SMS about special offers at their nearest store.


Customer expectations and ecommerce competition are at an all time high. In order to stay competitive and drive loyalty, merchants need to deliver a seamless and highly personalized experience that makes it simple for customers to purchase products wherever they are - desktop or mobile, social media or on-site, offline or online.

Want to know when our next article is published? Sign up for our newsletter!


Leave a comment