As I said in my last blog online shopping is a symptom not a cause of the current woes of the Main Street/High Street. There is much confusion between all the terms currently being used in the digital world. Omnichannel, crosschannel and multichannel are all buzzwords in the new digital business dictionary. But what do they mean? What is the difference between them? And, more importantly, is this relevant to me in my business? What do I need to know and how can I apply it to my business?

How do we shop?

Let’s step back a little and look at the ways in which customers shop today. Without wishing to state the obvious as I am about to do, there are bricks and mortar retailers, online retailers and retailers who do both. The digital world is important in all three types of retailing and there is space for all three in today’s market. Indeed, with the rise of independent retailers (see this blog) you could argue that the number of bricks and mortar retailers is increasing, a counter factual argument to the headlines about the demise of the chains.

Traditional/digital customer lifecycle

Looking at the graphic on the left, the traditional customer lifecycle is simple. Customer discovers they need to buy something, explores the various options in shops and stores, buys what they want and forms a relationship with the retailer. Easy peasy.

The graphic on the right shows the digital customer lifecycle and it looks like a spider’s web. However it is important to note that the purchase instore is one element of this lifecycle and connects with the digital parts. Connect some of the lines in the graphic and digital can be used to entice your customer instore. Instead of seeing online and instore as being direct competitors they are part of the same whole.


Back to some of those confusing terms and the easiest to define is crosschannel. This is nothing to do with the Eurostar. This is when the communication channels to your customer have the same message, look and feel. The mobile app should match your website and social media and all should reflect the customer experience when they enter your store.

Multichannel vs Omnichannel

With multichannel retailing the retailer has several ways of selling and communicating to the customer e.g. instore, e-commerce (full online shopping website), mobile app, click and collect, Facebook marketplace, Etsy, social media. The customer will also use their own methods of research by browsing online, reading online reviews, talking to their friends and colleagues and using social media groups.

Depending on the size of your business you may only use one or two of these channels. A small business may use instore and Facebook marketplace or Etsy. A large retailer may use instore, click and collect, e-commerce and mobile app.  If you are Penney’s you only have instore with no e-commerce and many independents only sell instore.

“The difference between multichannel and omnichannel really comes down to a company’s approach to digital channels,” says Stacy Schwartz, a digital marketing expert and adjunct professor at Rutgers Business School. “Companies that focus on maximizing the performance of each channel, physical, phone, web, mobile, have a multichannel strategy. They likely structure their organization into ‘swim lanes’ focused on each channel, each with their own reporting structure and revenue goals.” The result, she says, is competition which sometimes “serves the greater good and other times generates friction and misaligned incentives.”

An omnichannel approach is to put the customer at the centre of your sales and marketing strategy. In a world of 3bn smartphone users, the customer is now in control of how they view a product or brand. Ironically this means that the interaction between the customer and your product or store is more personalised.

“An omnichannel approach puts the customer, not corporate silos, at the centre of its strategy,” Schwartz says. “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 essence multichannel is a corporate view of the sales channels and omnichannel looks at it from the customer’s point of view. This is expanded in the link below.

How to apply this to your independent business

In a way, it’s reverting to the old fashioned mode of retailing with the grocer in his long apron greeting customers at the door as he opens the shop. He knows them by name and knows their particular needs and is able to fulfil them. Translate that into the digital world and it‘s about making sure you have all your communication channels in sync. Not only communicating but engaging with your customers through social media to get to know them and what they want from your business. Personal recommendations come in the shape of Google or TripAdvisor reviews.

My personal list for an independent omnichannel retailer

  • A good website that is easy to navigate, mobile friendly, is updated regularly and tells me about the business, the product but also the people behind the business.
  • Social media appropriate to your business, probably Facebook and Instagram to start with.
  • Twitter is great for personal engagement and is very immediate.
  • If you are not in a town or city and/or need an e-commerce site invest in good market research and talk to other online retailers.
  • All of these channels must look and feel the same so consistent, good branding is a must.
  • Invest in the talents of a good copywriter to make sure your personality and tone of voice are reflected in all of your channels.

This may appear to be a long and seemingly expensive list but it is worth getting this right if you are to have an omnichannel approach to your business. You will be rewarded with good customer experiences and a revenue to match. And you will be able to compete in the ever-changing marketplace by being able to form those all-important personal relationships with your customers.

At the end of the day people have always done business with people, it’s just that the methods have changed a bit.

Happy retailing!
© Retail Renewal 22/11/18

Retail Renewal offers practical solutions for the ever-evolving challenges of running a retail business today. Find out more on If you’d like to get in touch with Retail Renewal about your shop or retail project please give Linda a call on 086 8146949. Let us help you to support and grow your business.





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