What do the terms multi-channel, cross-channel and omni-channel retailing mean? Let’s examine the different terms used today to describe recent evolutions in the retail space, where performance is now measured across several different channels. And in our next article, we’ll discuss how to monitor performance in a multi-channel context, while also considering the protection of personal data.

“What is understood well is expressed clearly.”*

The term multi-channel describes the experience of a customer who shops using the different channels made available by a company, such as brick-and-mortar stores, catalogues, website, mobile application, TV commercials, and call centres.

Multi-channel is not a new concept. Before the advent of the Internet and mobile, it was possible to purchase via different channels including shops, call centres and mail order catalogues. What is new, however, is the growing number of channels used today, and the multiplying devices used to access them, such as desktop computers, smartphones, tablets, interactive terminals, and smart TV. These channels will continue to increase as we see more “smart” devices develop, like cars and fridges.

The term cross-channel describes the experience of a customer who has used a combination of several different channels for the same purchase. For example, a customer prints a product configuration on a company’s website and then goes in-store to make the purchase. A customer may also choose the product he or she wants to purchase from a company’s catalogue, and then buy the product directly on the company’s website. Another example is a customer who purchases through his or her TV set, and then collects the product from the nearest store.

The term omni-channel describes the simultaneous use of two channels, like using a mobile phone while in-store, or a tablet while watching TV. The term is also used to describe the consistency between different channels that facilitates and streamlines customer interactions.

This means that a customer’s configurations and preferences saved on one channel must be memorised and accounted for on all other channels. As a customer, could you imagine if you had to recreate an account for each different channel used (desktop computer or tablet, or in-store checkout)?

These new terms also support an underlying idea put forth by service providers and championed by digital marketing experts, which can be summed up as follows: Businesses who do not think “multi-channel” are doomed to disappear. But as always, we must exercise caution when making categorical judgments such as this one, especially when there are no figures to rely on. Just because everyone repeats the same thing does not make it an absolute truth.

Dismissing preconceptions about multi-channel


Your data is there to help you rule out preconceptions, like the ones that follow, surrounding the emergence of multi-channel.

#1 Customers like to use all channels as soon as they are available

If customers use several different channels it is not for the sake of using them, but rather they find them important. Having a wide range of channels available meets one of their needs:

  • saving money: customers using a mobile device in-store can take advantage of the latest promotions, collect their product in-store after online purchase to avoid paying shipping fees
  • reducing risks: customers might go in-store to view a product they discovered online in more detail, or they might reserve a product using their mobile phone for fear that the product may no longer be available in-store
  • reducing efforts: customers may choose their product from a catalogue and insert the product reference number into the mobile application to purchase it
  • saving time: customers might use smart TV to show a product to the whole family and get their approval, then later purchase the product when they’re alone from the store closest to their workplace.
  • obtaining further information: a customer might use his or her mobile phone in-store to consult more detailed technical information or reviews about a product.

#2 All channels must have the same offerings

Businesses fear that customers will not be able to find a product on all the different channels available – and this drives retailers to provide the same offerings on all channels. But there’s a risk in underestimating the particularities of each channel and the customer segments targeted with each (like young people for mobile channels, older customers for catalogues). Slide 22 of a recent study carried out by Mappy-BVA-Novedea Group confirms that a relationship exists between age, socio-professional category and the tendency to buy online or in-store. By striving to provide the exact same offerings on all different channels, business miss the opportunity to make the most of the differences existing between each channel.

#3 A customer who uses several different channels is more likely to make a purchase

We have all read statements such as “Multi-channel provides a higher conversion rate”, “A multi-channel customer generates sales six times greater than a single-channel web customer.” But is it really multi-channel that leads to a higher conversion rate? Yes, of course, making an offer available on several different channels means that brands won’t miss out on selling to people who like using different channels. But more likely, higher multi-channel conversion rates can be explained by the fact that customers who use several different channels to make a purchase have a stronger intention to buy. Trying desperately to move visitors from one channel to another will not necessarily increase your sales turnover. The intention to buy trumps the use of multiple channels. The bottom line is that sales will not take off if your product is poor, no matter how unique the experience you offer through your distribution channels.

All of these statements are only hypotheses. The work of a web analyst is to confirm if the statements are true by using figures, or by disproving them if need be. The web analyst must help their Marketing Manager sort all of the opinions published online. As a result, it is necessary to test and analyse the data. AT Internet, through its Web Analytics and Mobile Analytics solutions, provides data on these two main channels. Your in-store or call centre data can also be integrated via API to supplement this online data.

The only remaining problem is the question of protecting the personal data of prospects and customers, which we’ll examine in our next post. At AT Internet, we’re vigilant and transparent on the subject of collecting data from users who consult our customers’ online properties…

>> Continue to Part 2 of “Multi-channel, cross-channel, omni-channel retailing: business in all its forms”

 *An English translation of the French “Ce qui se conçoit bien s’énonce clairement”, written by the 17th century French poet Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux