Defining Omnichannel: Differentiating between Omnichannel, Cross-channel and Multi-channel Commerce

Does your organization need an omnichannel, multi-channel, or cross-channel eCommerce technology solution to meet the needs of your customers? This post defines and differentiates your options.

Set a Goal

When a technology vendor or your own CEO tells you that you need an “omnichannel” solution, do you know what they really mean? This may seem obvious but it’s important to clearly identify your organization’s goals and expectations and make sure everyone is on the same page before moving forward to implement any technology solution. You need to know where you want to go before you can get there.


First, let’s define “omnichannel.” The prefix “omni” means all. Like everything. Not one channel, not two channels, but all channels. It means interacting with your customers across any channel—in-store, online, phone, mobile, etc.—at any and/or all times. The term is also used to describe the consistency between different channels that facilitates and streamlines customer interactions. Your customers can research your product or service on their phone or tablet then order it on your website and come pick it up in a brick and mortar store or a distribution center.

With omnichannel commerce, your customers can be consumers and/or other businesses. Products may ship from multiple locations and can be returned wherever it’s convenient for the buyer. These customers can call you on the phone and you need to be able to see all their interactions whether they were in person, via mobile, or talking to the chat head on a work PC. A customer’s configurations and preferences are saved on one channel and accessible on all other channels. Omnichannel commerce isn’t just for B2C companies.


Sometimes you’ll also hear “cross-channel” which is usually used to describe an “omnichannel approach.” According to, the term “cross channel” means “seamlessly and interchangeably using multiple channels to market, sell, and interact with customers.” Which seems pretty synonymous with omnichannel…don’t you think?

Multi-channel Commerce

“Multi,” on the other hand, means “many.” The term “multichannel” describes the experience of a customer who shops using the different channels made available by a company, such as brick-and-mortar stores, outside sales staff, catalogues, website, mobile application, and more. Multichannel is not a new concept. Before the advent of the Internet and mobile, it was possible to purchase via different channels including shops, call centers, and mail order catalogues. What is new, however, is the growing number of channels used today, 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 home appliances. Is it really so far off in the future that we’ll be able to order groceries from our smart refrigerators?

To some companies just starting out in eCommerce or with a limited list of products or customers, “multi-channel” may be enough. Do you truly need an omnichannel commerce solution or would an ecommerce solution to support a multichannel strategy suffice?

Making sure you are speaking the same language is key when talking to a technology vendor. A good partner will ask questions to make sure you understand each other. After all, business technology is presumably not your business. You are an expert at your products or services.

Focusing on Customers

Don’t focus on the buzzword. You must determine what your customers need and what you can currently support. Maybe you are ready for comprehensive omnichannel operations or maybe multi-channel will suffice.