Multi-channel, Cross-channel, Omni-channel: What is the Difference?

  • April 27, 2016


    Back in the days, brands were only using 3 marketing channels: the phone, mails and their store. Then Internet and new technologies arrived, along with new marketing channels (websites, mobile apps, emails, etc.) and new devices (computers, mobile, tablets, etc.).

    Today, 64% of Americans own a smartphone (source: Pew Research) and mobile commerce represents 30% of all US e-commerce according to Internet Retailer. Consumers are always online, having Internet at their fingertips at all times so they tend to view the same number of products on smartphone and desktop according to Criteo.

    So customer experience is more and more cross device, this makes it hard for brands to offer a smooth and unified experience when several devices are used.

    If a consumer starts getting information on a product in the morning on his mobile, goes to the store during his lunch break to see it and eventually orders it online in the evening on his tablet, how to ensure all those devices and channels communicate with each other?

    To do so, brands have developed the three following strategies.


    Clients use one of the brand channels to purchase a product: in-store, on mobile, on a tablet, on a computer, etc. Those channels are not connected to one another, it’s separate entities among the company, different departments that do not share any data.

    So if a client is used to order online and goes to the brand’s store, sales people won’t have access to his purchase history. Channels are in competition with one another so for multi-channel brands, consumers have to choose one channel and stick to it.


    Clients can use several channels for the same order. The idea is to mix a brand’s channels to smooth the customer experience. “Click & collect” allows clients to order online and get the product in-store for example. On the opposite, a client tries some clothes in a shop, likes it but isn’t 100% sure. He thinks about it later at home and eventually order those clothes online.

    Another example could be one of a consumer receiving a coupon via email. He goes to the store to see the product but order it online to take advantage of this voucher. Channels are not in competition anymore, they actually become complementary.


    It’s the same idea than a cross-channel strategy, except that brands add simultaneity. Today, consumers tend to use two channels at the same time: using a phone in-store, browsing a tablet when watching TV, etc. So clients can compare prices or read reviews on their mobile when they are in a store, before purchasing a product for example.

    One channel serves another. Let’s say a client goes to a book store with a specific need, can’t find it so ask a sales person who will check on one of the shop’s computer. So the book isn’t available in store anymore but the sales person says he can order it online, right now, for the client. The client gives his credentials, confirms his address, pays and will receive the book at home.

    Omni-channel strategies allow customers to access real-time information, wherever and whenever they want, no matter the channel used. On the other hand, it empowers brands to tighten the gap between online and offline.

    Now let’s see three examples with Ikea, Birchbox and eBay.


    Ikea launched a virtual reality application so customers can picture furnitures right in their living room. To do so, they just need to use Ikea catalog, to place it where they would like to install their furniture and the mobile app will replace the catalog with the chosen product. Here two channels are used simultaneously — the brand’s mobile app and its catalog — to provide customers with a unique experience.



    When Birchbox opened a shop in Manhattan, the brand wanted this physical point of sale to look exactly like their website. Tablets were available to customers on the store so anyone can browse Birchbox website, subscribe to their monthly beauty box but most of all, read clients reviews. Here is good example of how a brand can bring offline all the useful data it collects online.



    EBay developed a connected mirror for New York clothing brand Rebecca Minkoff. Clients can click on the mirror not only to browse Rebecca Minkoff website but also to add clothes to their fitting room. A sales person will collect the clothes in the store and the client will receive a text when her fitting room is ready. Each dressing room also has a connected mirror so clients can purchase a product from there with just a few clicks.


    Originally published on Medium

    Digital & Social Articles on Business 2 Community


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