Omnichannel Retailing: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Nikolina author

Nikolina Maškarić

Head of Content

⏱ Reading Time: 9 minutes

From brick and mortar stores to mobile phones, online shops, text message marketing and more, retailing isn’t what it used to be. The rise of the Internet, mobile technologies and digital disruption have changed the retail business as well as the implementation of the levers of retail mix and the behavior of shoppers. 

 🚀Read: Omnichannel Guide for Digitally Advanced Brands🚀

Nowadays, it is critical to give customers what they want, when they want it, and where they want. This is placing increased pressure on retailers and consumer product companies to ensure that the promise they are making to the customer is fulfilled completely. And this is what omnichannel retailing is all about.

A Shift from Multichannel to Omnichannel Retailing

To get you more familiar with omnichannel and find a difference over multichannel, let’s take a look at what omnichannel looks like in practice.

Say one of your customers visits your website looking for a new shirt but decides not to buy it right away. Later while browsing Facebook they click on your ad with a coupon code they can use on your website and end up making the purchase. During checkout, they choose to pick up the purchase at your brick-and-mortar location.

In this example, your customer interacts with your business through three different touchpoints and has a seamless and consistent experience at each one.

The Difference Between Multi-Channel and Omni-Channel Retail?

According to digital marketing expert and consultant, Staci Schwartz:

The difference between multichannel and omnichannel really comes down to a company’s approach to digital channels. Companies that focus on maximizing the performance of each channel– physical, phone, web, mobile–have a multichannel strategy.

On the other hand, an omnichannel approach puts the customer, not corporate silos, at the center of its strategy. It acknowledges that mobile and social have enabled customers to not only quickly switch between channels but actually use channels simultaneously. For example, checking out product reviews on their mobile phone while evaluating a product on a physical retail store shelf.

In other words, omnichannel acknowledges that customers engage with brands in multiple ways across diverse platforms and understands the underlying challenge when it comes to ensuring a consistent experience.

Even though there’s opinion saying that omni-channel seems to be an extension of multi-channel, the two strategies are very distinct and separate retail models. Using multi-channel, retailers adopt as many channels as possible but manage them separately.

Meanwhile, Omni-channel provides retailers a wholly centralized data management towards synchronization of existing channels. Therefore, it brings shoppers a seamless shopping experience by blurring the boundaries among channels.

Read Omnichannel Guide for Digitally Advanced Brands


Why Omnichannel Is a Must in the Retail Industry?

At the “Internet of Things” era, every retailer is expected to have an online web store. A recent Harvard Business Review survey of a massive 46,000 shoppers found that:

  • Only 7% shopped exclusively online.
  • 20% were store-only shoppers.
  • While 73% moved across multiple channels.

Simply selling products on multiple channels doesn’t create an omnichannel experience. It can be confusing to know whether or not your business is actually omnichannel.

Do your sales channels and other marketing engagement points all work together? If you’re not sure, ask yourself these 5 questions:

  • Can your shoppers place an online order and select in-store pickup?
  • Or click on a sale item in an email to add it to their mobile app shopping list?
  • Can your store clerk look up a customer’s mobile app shopping list in-store for them?
  • Could shoppers log in to your website and see past purchases, whether made in-store, online, or via your Facebook Shop?
  • Do your loyalty program update points and rewards to your customer’s mobile app?

An omnichannel retailer can answer yes to each of these questions. All of their sales and marketing engagement points are interconnected which creates a seamless customer experience that is the heart of an omnichannel strategy.

In other words, multichannel retail actually creates roadblocks to sales because shoppers cant’ feel a seamless UX experience and important touchpoints aren’t connected:


  • Shoppers can order online but there’s no in-store pickup option. Boo! Now, they have to pay for shipping and wait for their order. Alternatively, they have to spend time searching through your store shelves on their way home from work.
  • Shoppers love your weekly sales emails, but they have to get out of the email, open their app shopping list and add items manually, flipping between screens.
  • Dang! Your customer’s phone battery died and they’re in the store with a full shopping list saved in their app. However, your store clerk can’t help because your store’s point-of-sale and online systems aren’t connected. So, your customer shops from their memory and forgets three items. They’re unhappy and you miss three sales.
  • A shopper bought something in-store that they loved but can’t remember what it was when ordering online. Since your online and in-store sales aren’t connected, they can’t see it in order history and you lose a sale.

Will Omnichannel Increase Retail Sales?

According to Harvard Business Review,

Providing a seamless shopping experience in brick-and-mortar stores and through a variety of digital channels not only differentiates retailers from their peers but also gives them a competitive edge over online-only retailers by leveraging their store assets.

Omnichannel shoppers also tend to have larger shopping baskets and exhibit more loyalty. 

So to put the whole thing in a nutshell, consumers engage more with omnichannel retailers, spend more money with them, and are more loyal customers coming back more often to the physical store.

Retailers with traditional brick-and-mortar stores need to leverage the power provided by the online world by integrating physical and digital spheres into an omnichannel retail format that provides shoppers with a seamless and consistent omnichannel experience.

Doing so will differentiate you from your competitors and increase your store sales.

Read more on how to create an omnichannel strategy and create an amazing omnichannel retail experience! 

Read How To Provide Excellent Retail Customer Service

5 Omnichannel Trends to Make Your Brand Competitive in 2021

For businesses eager to transition from multichannel retailing to omnichannel, it’s important to think outside the box and apply omnichannel retailing strategies in your upcoming campaigns.

Generally said, companies have to establish better integration between their physical and online operations, including inventory, product information, price matching, flexible delivery options (click-and-collect, ship from stores etc.) and omnichannel customer interactions.

Effective omnichannel retail requires creating seamless shopping experiences for your customers, whether in a brick-and-mortar store, shopping on a PC, buying through a smartphone app, or through other channels. Think of your selling channels as multiple roads that lead to the same destination – money in your pocket.

To go above and beyond, here are five omnichannel retailing trends you should consider integrating into your 2021 omnichannel strategy.

1. Better Personalization

Shoppers, like everyone else, pursue relationships that make sense. They respond especially well to offers targeted to their interests. To overcome this, brands can leverage the data collected through multiple user touchpoints. Combining identity data with deep insights enables you to customize offers and experiences in alignment with each customer’s current search and need. When all your channels are connected, every consumer touchpoint helps to reinforce your competitive advantage and strengthen your relationship with customers.


Picture 2. Omnichannel retailing personalization

2. Fast and Efficient Payment Checkouts

Between blockchain solutions, contactless payment, and more, consumers expect easier methods for checkout whether it’s online, in-store, or over the phone. Increasingly, shoppers will gravitate toward brands that no longer require them to enter their billing address, 16-digit credit card number, expiry date, and security code to complete their purchase — especially for repeat customers. Providing various payment options at checkouts, such as PayPal and Apple Pay, will give your customers the convenience of using their preferred method of payment and make shopping easier than ever before.


Picture 3. Easy checkout by Apple

3. Embracing Innovation

Customers’ ever-increasing appetite and enthusiasm for different and interactive experiences has already paved the way to many technological advancements in retail, such as virtual and augmented reality. This trend is here to stay. In order to satisfy their customers’ need for an unforgettable experience, many companies will have to think of different ways to engage their customers with their stores. An omnichannel approach will in this way enable the consumers to use their smartphones in a physical store to better their customer journey. Or vide versa – customers can use their smartphones and check in the comfort of their home whether a certain product suits their needs.

4. Social Integration

Visually-oriented audiences increasingly purchase products directly from their preferred social media platforms. This creates an opportunity for omnichannel retailers to figure out new ways to integrate social content into their websites or to add their product listings into social media posts, and more.

Read Importance of Social Media Marketing for Business


Picture 4. Kate Spade shoppable Instagram feed

5. Customer Service 24/7

Even though keeping the doors of a physical location open 24/7 is not possible for many businesses, it is feasible to offer 24/7 online shopping, ordering, and customer service. When aligning your retail strategy with omnichannel retail trends in 2021, consider enhancing customer service with 24/7 accessibility. Shopping across many different platforms and devices has its perks, but it also can bring more questions from your customers. Ensure that you have an outstanding in-person, email, and online customer service program for your shoppers.


Picture 5. 24/7 customer service

Is Omnichannel Retail (R)Evolution Over?

Newer forces will influence how shoppers select channels, choose products and services and make purchases. The worlds of online and offline are converging. Knowing what is different and what is similar in these two worlds, as well as how new technologies are going to impact both, is key for the future of retailing. Innovations are likely to help customers make good decisions, feel less time pressure, or even increase their confidence and satisfaction with their decisions. 

Retailers, in turn, need to embrace these new and emerging technologies to make their customers even more engaged, while also making their lives simpler. Finding ways to do so remains an important area of inquiry, worthy of continued exploration.

DeAnn Campbell, director of retail strategy and development at Harbor Retail, proposes a different way to think beyond omnichannel recognizing that it limits retailers operating in the dynamically shifting world of retail. 

“Omnichannel is no longer descriptive of what is happening in retail today. Omnichannel implies a sameness between channels and that is not really the case,” she says. “It is more productive to encourage things to be different yet harmonized with the brand story so that the customer will play each note in the retail experience. That is what we call Harmonic Retail.” 

Harmonic Retail describes the next evolutionary step in retail. It is “a shift beyond converged commerce where online and offline experiences don’t just integrate, but they interact, enrich and react to one another to create a living, harmonized brand expression throughout the customer journey,” according to Campbell.

Omnichannel vs Harmonic retail (r)evolution and which will be more important to retailers, we will see.

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Omnichannel Retailing: What Is It and Why Is It Important? was last modified: June 13th, 2021 by Milica Vujasin
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