Omni-channel is probably one of the most over hyped amorphous terms to hit the e-commerce world in a while. I wanted to take the time and explain the difference between omni-channel and multi-channel and point out that most omni-channel vendors are really providing a multi-channel solution.
A channel or sales channel is a place that you sell your products. The main channels in operation today are: your website, marketplaces (Amazon, Ebay, etc), your app and retail location(s).
Multi-channel means that your e-commerce operates with multiple sales channels. For example, you might have a presence on a marketplace like amazon or ebay and a an e-commerce website. Both channels might share the same warehouse or fulfillment center or the might have different warehouses.
Omni-channel means that you have multiple sales channels and that your system is able to process a transaction across the channels. The across channels part is very important.
The main difference between multi-channel and omni-channel is that your channels are aware of each other and can handle transactions across multiple channels. Most omni-channel solutions are really multi-channel with a new coat of marketing paint.
Example Use Cases
Consider the following use cases:
- A customer buys a product online and picks it up in the store.
- A customer buys a product in the store and returns it via your RMA process online.
- A customer buys a product online and it is delivered via UPS and they return it to the store for a refund on the original card.