Omni-Channel” – the buzz word that was touted at the 2013 Internet Retailer conference in Chicago, IL in each morning’s keynote address, individual breakout sessions and throughout the exhibit hall.

While most people thought of and used the words “omni-channel” and “multi-channel” interchangeably, to me they are related yet quite distinct terms.

Multi-Channel for Online Retailers

The older term – multi-channel – refers to marketing in which the retail merchant reaches customers via the sales channel most convenient to the customer, whether a retail store, website, print catalog, direct mail, email or text message. One of our biggest challenges as online marketers is to maximize traffic and sales from each of these channels.

Typically, multi-channel retailers make decisions on what to offer and to whom based on the channel. As an example, merchants may promote “web only” specials or provide specific discounts or promotions to their email customers only.

Omni-Channel: the New Approach to Online Retailing

Omni-channel retail, a more recent progression of multi-channel marketing, encompasses a seamless approach to the customer experience across all sales channels.

Research shows that omni-channel shoppers spend 15-30% more than multi-channel shoppers, as well as exhibit strong brand loyalty, often becoming brand mavens who influence others to purchase from the same brand. These consumers simultaneously use various sales channels to interact with an online brand.

For example, when buying a new pair of jeans, I might research a product online, but make the final purchase in a brick and mortar store where I can try the jeans on for size. And while at the store, I may be pulling my phone out to read some last minute reviews on this product.

To satisfy the higher demands of today’s channel savvy consumers, omni-channel merchants implement appropriate supply chain management and customer tracking to allow measurement of activity for customers using more than one channel. Successful omni-channel retailers drive all sales channels using the same database of consumers, products, pricing and promotions.

Benefits of Omni-Channel Retailing

Rather than a variety of sales channel touch points of the same brand, omni-channel merchants allow consumers to experience their brand, not a channel within a brand. Products and promotions are consistent across all channels, and marketing utilizes specific offers relative to consumers based on purchase patterns, social network behavior, website visits, etc.

While the move to a true omni-channel retail model usually involves large investments of time and money, the benefits are many. Today’s consumers demand a superior customer experience no matter their channel preference(s). This requires retailers to provide quality products at competitive prices and employ and train more knowledgeable staff. An investment in omni-channel retail is worthwhile because of the lifetime value created when engaging and retaining customers on numerous fronts.

How to Reach Shoppers in Different Channels

Whether you’re talking about multi- or omni-channel retail, one of the biggest challenges is how to maximize traffic and sales from each channel. Which of your current channels could be doing better? What channels are you missing? Join us for a free 25 minute webinar on Thursday, June 20, 2013. We will be discussing online retail sales channels and tips to drive more traffic from each channel to your eCommerce website.