What is omnichannel retail? A guide with examples
This post was last updated on June 20, 2023.
Omnichannel commerce may seem like a horror movie monster. It has tentacles that reach in all directions, it’s ready to swallow your business whole, and you can’t escape it.
But as with most fears, the reality of omnichannel is less terrifying than the amorphous first impression you may have of it. On closer inspection, omnichannel retail is a powerful force that you can tame to serve your customers and your growth goals.
By leveraging a versatile tool set like Wix’s eCommerce website builder and keeping a firm grasp on your customers’ preferences, you’ll be well positioned for omnichannel success when you start your business.
What is omnichannel retail?
Omnichannel retail has been a popular catchphrase for years, but its definition is often hazy. The lack of specificity makes “omnichannel” seem bigger than it needs to be; two-hour store pickup, TikTok selling, and search engine advertising can all count as components of omnichannel selling, but that doesn’t mean you have to do all of them all at once.
The real definition is much simpler. Omnichannel retail is when you sell goods via multiple channels using a cohesive strategy to create a seamless, engaging customer experience. That’s it.
Focusing your efforts comes down to listening to your customers: you’ll want to sell on the channels where your shoppers choose to shop—be it social media or your physical store. When executed well, omnichannel retail is the ultimate customer-centric approach.
Don’t call it “multi-channel”
While the definition may be simple, the reality of integrating and coordinating activities can be complicated behind the scenes. But that cohesive effort is exactly what sets omnichannel selling apart from its aging cousin, “multichannel retailing.”
While “multi-channel” merchants might have diverse online and store offerings, those efforts aren’t necessarily inter-operational. Brands fall into this trap when internal teams work in isolation and compete—rather than collaborate—for budget dollars.
For example, a retailer whose eCommerce site fulfills orders from a dedicated distribution center and shares nothing but a brand name with its physical stores is technically operating in two channels, but isn’t leveraging the benefits that come with synchronizing efforts between them.
Single-channel: a dying breed
Even more rare is “single channel retail,” which describes brands that operate stores or a standalone online destination, but not both. This form of selling is nearly extinct, and not just because stores are catching up to consumers with new digital channels; “pure-play” retailers that started exclusively online, such as Warby Parker and Amazon, are opening physical locations, too, finding that the two channels work better together.
The growing benefits of omnichannel retail
The growth of both “bricks to clicks” and “clicks to bricks” suggests that a fluid blend of physical and digital shopping is the most effective approach for omnichannel success. This combined approach has numerous benefits.
Meet consumers wherever they shop
Digital experiences influence far more than the 15% of revenues generated directly via eCommerce.
Four in five shoppers make their decisions about a brand or product online, regardless of where they finalize transactions, according to McKinsey. During that research phase, omnichannel retailers have a visibility advantage, earning up to twice as much organic traffic as their online-only counterparts, McKinsey found.
Moreover, today’s shoppers are largely in the habit of shopping from site to site, channel to channel. They expect continuity and consistency in the shopping experience, regardless of the touchpoint, and reward brands that succeed at this. McKinsey estimates that omnichannel customers spend an average of 70% more than their offline-only counterparts.
Understand customers holistically to boost brand relevance
Omnichannel selling succeeds to such a degree because unifying customer data from different channels yields valuable insights that enable personalized experiences. More than seven in 10 consumers want personalized communications and tailored recommendations from brands they buy from, McKinsey found.
In other words, personalization pays.
Let’s take a look at Sephora, for example. Sephora provides a rich mobile app experience with personalized push notifications and the ability to book in-store style consultations online. At store locations, associates are able to access customers’ favorite picks and make relevant suggestions for new products.
Sephora’s Beauty Insider loyalty program further draws on in-store and online behavioral data to generate relevant offers. These tightly-connected and immediate experiences pay off: 70% of customers who visit Sephora’s site prior to a store visit do so within a day beforehand. Their average order value is also 13% higher than that of other customers, eTail West reported.
Satisfy the need for fulfillment speed
The pandemic gave many retailers a crash course in fulfillment, leaving many sellers scrambling to meet high high consumer expectations. Speedy delivery is now the norm: 36% of consumers are even reluctant to pay anything extra for next-day shipping, Deloitte found.
Store-based services like “buy online, pickup in-store” can help you to provide speedy fulfillment without paying for express home delivery. While repurposing store real estate to accommodate pickup services takes an investment, you can offer customers a fast and free way to collect the goods they bought online.
Store-based fulfillment services also make the most of available inventory, reducing the potential for dead stock. Not to mention that 85% of store pickup shoppers make unplanned additional purchases once inside the store, Harvard Business Review reported.
Set the stage for new business models
Not only does omnichannel retail help meet shoppers’ expectations for relevance and speed; it can also form a solid foundation for new brand offerings that require nimble operations.
Enhanced brick-and-mortar store experiences are one example. Integrated promotions can highlight designer trunk shows, in-store classes, and other events as well as store services that appeal to shoppers’ interests, encouraging them to linger longer.
Omnichannel can additionally support the complex logistics of experimental initiatives. Think: product rentals, trade-ins for resale, and curated subscriptions. These all require you to reprocess a high volume of returned goods, making stores ideal waystations for these services, supported by robust digital self-service content.
Levi’s has transformed its stores into omnichannel innovation hubs. Customers can personalize, alter, and redesign their denim with guidance from pros at the Tailor Shops. They can additionally bring in used merchandise (which Levi’s then resells through its second-hand eCommerce site), or attend one-on-one stylist appointments at stores. And, of course, they can access curbside and in-store pickup.
Putting the “omni” in omnichannel: top channels to sell on
While your eCommerce site is your brand’s most important location online, tapping other digital channels can extend your reach to new audiences and strengthen your relationships with current customers. Niche channels can be especially useful, as they may offer better visibility at a lower price point than mass platforms.
Potential channels include (but aren’t limited to):
Your online store. Your flagship eCommerce site acts as the hub for all of your brand’s digital activities. It’s a place where shoppers should be able to find all the information they need about your products, services, and stores. It’s also a channel where you have the most control over and visibility into the full user journey.
In-person retail. This includes your physical stores, pop-ups, mobile merchandise vans, and other physical outlets. It’s critical to connect your store with your online inventory, plus customer order histories and product information, in order to ensure a seamless experience for your shoppers. (Pro tip: Wix POS, together with Wix Payments, lets you sync your online transactions with your offline ones.)
Online marketplaces. Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Wish, and other third-party channels have the power to boost your brand’s visibility among established audiences. The biggest challenge is keeping all of your channels in sync, and remaining compliant with each channel’s requirements. That’s why it’s evermore important to establish a central hub for managing all of your cross-channel activities.
Search engines. It’s no secret that Google is the largest search engine in the world. Nowadays, it doubles up as a space to research brands, compare products, and even complete purchases (think: Google Shopping). It only makes sense for your brand to invest in organic strategies like SEO or search ads that put your business on the map.
Social commerce. Shoppers are increasingly discovering products from their favorite social channels, including TikTok, Instagram (see our guide on how to sell on Instagram), and Facebook. With tools for livestream shopping, customer service, checkout, and more—social channels are in and of themselves powerful sales channels.
Conversational commerce. Be it through live chat, text messages, voice shopping, or social messaging, there’s no shortage of ways for brands and customers to connect. Conversational commerce techniques and channels use real-time interactions to nudge consumers toward a purchase.
How to build an omnichannel retail strategy
With so many channels to choose from, it can be tempting to try a little bit of everything. But unless you’ve got a budget to rival Sephora’s or Levi’s, it’s better to pick a few high-priority channels and grow from there.
After all, who hasn’t endured a confusing store pickup process or received a comically off-base targeted email? These snafus make brands memorable for the wrong reasons, and can have a negative impact on the bottom line.
To ramp up your omnichannel strategy in a manageable manner, follow these below steps.
01. Focus on your customers’ priorities
Your omnichannel strategy shouldn’t be dictated by which websites are trendiest. Instead, learn where your target audience likes to shop and prioritize connecting their preferred touchpoints with physical store offerings. Start by researching:
How your audience prefers to learn about products and offers
What devices and online/offline resources they access when conducting research
What payment methods are popular
Whether fast, free, or other factors matter most for fulfillment
Where else audiences gather and shop
What convinces customers to re-engage
To find the answers, start with any and all existing store data. If you’re already open for business, view purchase histories, website analytics (like those provided by Wix Analytics), customer service feedback, store traffic patterns, and numerous other data sources to understand existing behavior. To capture needs that may be going unmet, consider surveying your target audience, both online and offline.
Finally, layer in the regional, demographic, and category trends that apply to your brand. By understanding your industry, the competitive landscape, and demographics of the region you serve, you can compare your findings to broader trends.
02. Launch your channels from one hub
Once you’ve whittled down your list of channels, it’s time to find a platform that can host your omnichannel operations. If you use Wix for eCommerce, you already have access to a suite of tools, apps, and integrations into several top marketplaces and social channels. If not, look for an eCommerce platform that supports:
Mobile-first functionality and design. Consumers now do the majority of their research from their phones, with four in every 10 online purchases made via mobile commerce. Make sure that your eCommerce platform allows you to customize the mobile experience so that shoppers can easily navigate through your site from a small screen.
Multichannel inventory and order management. The more channels you sell on, the more difficult it becomes to keep your orders and inventory in check. But a platform built with omnichannel in mind should be able to update inventory in real time (no matter where you receive an order), route orders to the right fulfillment partners, and help prevent overselling.
Easy listing management. Your eCommerce platform should serve as the source of truth for all of your product data. It should allow you to do two basic things: cleanly transfer your product data to new channels, and customize product details (like price and title) for each channel. The latter gives you the best chance at ranking and appealing to customers on each channel.
Unified checkout. Make sure that any brick-and-mortar locations use a POS solution that integrates with your online payment system. Both your online store and physical store should be equipped with standardized payment options, tax and shipping rules, consistent product data, and unified customer profiles.
Did you know: When you launch a new channel from Wix, you receive exclusive benefits, such as VIP onboarding, higher listing limits, and more. Learn more about selling on multiple channels with Wix.
03. Choose the right marketing mix
While basic eCommerce functionality is a must-have, the array of marketing channels you use should be as unique as your business. Consider the marketing channels that are most valuable to your customers and see how they can come in handy at various stages of the customer journey:
Discovery. To introduce your brand to new shoppers, establish brand outposts on social media sites, develop eCommerce content that boosts visibility in search results, reward word-of-mouth recommendations, and invest in ad campaigns to reach relevant audiences. You can use Wix Multichannel Campaigns to simplify marketing across various channels like email, Facebook, and Instagram. Instead of managing each separately (and consequently logging in and out of multiple sites), you can create a unified campaign from one dashboard and easily track your success.
The “messy middle.” By some estimates, omnichannel consumers need anywhere from 20 to 500 brand interactions to be convinced to buy a product. During this time, many customers are researching their options, consulting other sites, comparing prices, looking for coupons, and talking with friends. At this stage, reviews, buying guides, and social media endorsements can help to sway shoppers in the right direction. Remarketing ads, abandoned-cart emails, discount offers, and other tactics can be effective, too.
Post-purchase. Reach out to existing customers with timely offers and content to win their repeat business. An omnichannel platform like Wix eCommerce can use CRM data to personalize messages to a customer’s past actions and behaviors.You can test a variety of methods here—from tried-and-true email replenishment offers, to product subscriptions and/or social media campaigns.
04. Optimize for crossover fulfillment efficiencies
The one aspect of omnichannel retail that may seem most monstrous to tackle is competing with the scale and speed of mass merchants like Amazon or Walmart, especially when it comes to order fulfillment.
The good news is that clear, upfront communication can set the right expectations. While some things will always remain out of your control, you can prevent predictable cost overruns or customer-service mishaps by taking the following steps.
Tout the “green” option. Given consumers’ growing preference for sustainable commerce, you may be able to guide shoppers toward bigger shipping windows by highlighting the environmental benefits of this option.
Ship-from-store. Using local and regional carriers to ferry items across short distances can trim costs and shorten delivery timeframes, as well as put local inventory to new use.
Offer curbside pickup. Curbside pickup can support both free and fast delivery, while putting the onus on your customers to come pick their wares up from your store.
05. Leverage the big players to fill gaps
No matter how thoughtfully you strategize, the fact is that you likely don’t have the resources to do everything on every channel. But you can ride the coattails of bigger players who offer selling, marketing, and fulfillment opportunities that help bridge the gaps.
In exchange, giant brands rely on independent retailers like you to broaden their platform’s product selections, localize their content, and boost relevance. While these David-and-Goliath partnerships do have potential drawbacks, there’s no question that they can help rapidly achieve scale, efficiency, and visibility. Consider:
Amazon fulfillment if your audience craves speed. If most of your potential customers live beyond the reach of store locations and want items delivered fast, or if many are Prime members, you may want to consider learning how to sell on Amazon and joining Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) to enable swift home delivery. Amazon additionally offers Multi-Channel Fulfillment (MCF) services, allowing you to provide Prime-like shipping outside of Amazon—but note that other marketplaces, like Walmart, expressly forbid the use of FBA for fulfillment.
Social commerce platforms to boost visual content capabilities on mobile. Fully 99% of all social media users access their networks via mobile devices, which means that establishing social brand outposts can provide an instant mobile visibility boost. Shopping capabilities on sites like Pinterest and Instagram allow you (or any of your brand ambassadors) to tag products on your posts. Meanwhile, channels like Snapchat, provide a way for your brand to leverage augmented-reality shopping features, without having to spend months developing them on your own.
06. Measure and optimize
Not only is comprehensive integration and execution crucial to the success of omnichannel initiatives; it’s also critical to capture shoppers’ activities when using omnichannel features and to compile a single customer record that reflects all their interactions with the brand.
This should give you unprecedented insights into your customers’ preferences and behaviors. It will allow you to answer questions like: Do customer purchase paths align with your expectations? Which channels attract your highest-value customers? What messaging, offers, and products resonate most with customers on each channel?
Omnichannel commerce success is within reach
However daunting it may seem, omnichannel commerce is now a must-have, as consumers increasingly expect brands to fluidly blend online and offline experiences and unify offerings across digital properties.
Focus your efforts on the omnichannel initiatives that matter most to your business, and start reaping the benefits of being present in more places.
Omnichannel retail FAQ
What is an omnichannel retailing strategy?
An omnichannel retailing strategy is a retail strategy that allows customers to shop across multiple channels, such as online, in-store, and through mobile devices. The goal of an omnichannel strategy is to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience, regardless of the channel they choose to use.
What is an omnichannel customer experience?
An omnichannel customer experience is a customer experience that is consistent across all channels. This means that customers should be able to start a purchase on one channel and finish it on another, without having to repeat any information. They should also be able to access the same information and services, regardless of the channel they use.
What are the benefits of omnichannel in retail?
There are many benefits to omnichannel retail, including:
Increased sales: Omnichannel retailers can see a significant increase in sales. For example, a study by McKinsey found that omnichannel retailers generate 30% more sales than single-channel retailers.
Improved customer satisfaction: Omnichannel retailers can improve customer satisfaction by providing a seamless shopping experience. Customers can start a purchase on one channel and finish it on another, without having to repeat any information.
Reduced costs: Omnichannel retailers can reduce costs by streamlining their operations. For example, they can use a single database to track customer data, which can save time and money.
Increased brand awareness: Omnichannel retailers can increase brand awareness by being present on multiple channels. This can help them to reach a wider audience and attract new customers.
Head of Outbound Marketing, Wix for eCommerce
Bogar leads thought leadership and outbound marketing for Wix eCommerce. He has an extremely soft spot for all things eCommerce, retail, tech, content, and marketing.
Allison Lee Editor, Wix for eCommerce
Allison is the editor for the Wix eCommerce blog, with several years of experience reporting on eCommerce news, strategies, and founder stories.