What is Omnichannel Commerce? Benefits, Trends, and How to Build an Omnichannel Strategy

Omnichannel commerce

It should come as no surprise that ecommerce continues to grow, evolve, and become streamlined and efficient. A newer style of strategy that has come up is called “omnichannel commerce,” and EcommOps has had the opportunity to help multiple clients create omnichannel strategies that allow them to seamlessly sell on multiple sites at once. 

However, omnichannel commerce is complicated, and much more so than many of our clients realize. In this article, we’re going to talk about:

  • What omnichannel commerce is
  • How omnichannel commerce differs from multichannel and single channel commerce
  • Why omnichannel commerce is crucial
  • Key factors to consider when developing an omnichannel strategy
  • The big challenges of successfully using an omnichannel strategy
  • How China fulfillment and omnichannel commerce can go hand-in-hand for outstanding results

What is Omnichannel Commerce?

Omnichannel commerce is the process of unifying your inventory management and fulfillment operations for all sales channels (whether they are a branded store, a platform like Amazon, or even social media marketplaces). A unified process means the customer experience remains the same regardless of where they buy your product from, so regardless of where customers interact with your brand, they still see:

  • Consistent prices across all sales channels
  • Consistent brand voice across all channels
  • Consistent inventory availability across all channels
ommnichannel commerce

Omnichannel commerce is customer-focused, since the goal is to provide a seamless experience for buyers interacting with your brand. You want your customers to feel like they’re having an authentic brand experience regardless of where they purchase their products, and you want your customers to feel like it truly doesn’t matter what sales channel they buy your product from, so they can choose whichever option is the best fit. 

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel vs. Single Channel 

For ecommerce brands, how does omnichannel ecommerce compare to more traditional strategies like multichannel or single channel ecommerce? Let’s take a look!

Omnichannel vs. Single-Channel Ecommerce

As you might expect, the differences between omnichannel and single-channel ecommerce are pretty clear. In single-channel strategies, customers buy your products from a single platform (be that a branded store or an ecommerce platform like Amazon). Fulfillment usually comes from one warehouse (potentially a few), but all inventory systems are linked to the single sales channel. 

Omnichannel ecommerce is far more complex and covers far more sales channels. Multiple channels funnel into a single backend system, which coordinates your inventory management and warehousing in multiple locations to make sure that orders are fulfilled from the most ideal location. This could be based on location to customer, which warehouse has available inventory, or other factors. 

Single-channel ecommerce is how many brands start out, while omnichannel ecommerce is what successful, established brands can grow into. 

Omnichannel vs Multichannel Commerce

We have seen a lot of confusion between omnichannel and multichannel commerce, largely because they look very similar. Both involve selling products through multiple sales channels (which can include branded stores, online platforms, or even brick-and-mortar retail), and both require complicated back-end inventory management systems. What’s the difference? 

Multichannel commerce, while handling multiple sales channels, keeps those channels very separate. The inventory management for the brick and mortar store is separate from the branded online store, which is also separate from the Amazon sales page. Prices can vary between sales channels, as can available inventory, as well as the overall brand experience customers have. 

An omnichannel approach does not have these silos of separation. If a product is available through one sales channel, it’s available through all of them (with possible exception for brick-and-mortar retail). The price of a product is the same through all sales channels. The brand experience that customers have (including marketing, product support, packaging, etc.) is the same through all sales channels

Why Pursue an Omnichannel Approach?  

It’s pretty clear that an omnichannel approach requires a lot of work, so why pursue it at all? The reason so many businesses are pivoting to this approach is because it offers solid, concrete benefits that are particularly appealing to brands and businesses that are scaling, attempting to enter new markets, and are trying to appeal to new customer bases:

single channel platform commerce

Channel Dependence Is Dangerous

Overly depending on a single sales channel is extremely dangerous for an ecommerce brand. If you rely on a single channel, and then that traffic source dries up, how do you keep moving forward? Even in a traditional multi-channel approach, if you teach your customers that one specific channel is the best way to interact with you, and something disrupts that major channel, how do you pivot to something different?

If you have an established omnichannel approach, there is no “main way” to get your products or get the best brand experience. Even if one channel dries up, you still have high-quality, established sales paths for customers to follow. 

Most of Your Customers are Omnichannel Shoppers

Even if you don’t follow an omnichannel strategy, your customers probably already are. In a study that followed 46,000 shoppers over a 14-month period, 73% used multiple sales channels (both physical retail and online shopping) to arrive at a purchasing decision.

You can safely assume that if most customers are looking at physical retail and online retail, then they are likely comparing multiple different online sales channels as well. If there are inconsistencies in pricing, branding voice, inventory, it can:

  • Train your customers that there is a “best channel” to buy your products from (leading to channel dependence).
  • Provide confusing messaging about the quality of your brand, turning them off from buying at all.
  • Make it difficult to create new sales channels for your products, making it hard to reach new demographics or new markets.

If most of your shoppers are utilizing an omnichannel approach, then so should your business.

Omnichannel Ecommerce Helps to Diversify Marketing Channels

digital marketing channels

Since an omnichannel approach focuses on a seamless experience across all platforms, it naturally opens the doors to strategies for diversifying marketing channels. This approach informs all kinds of decisions, including:

  • SEO: What kind of traffic do you want to target, and how do you want to target that traffic?
  • E-mail: What kind of messaging do you have in your emails? How are you reaching out to customers and where are you driving traffic to? (In an omnichannel approach, you have flexibility to drive traffic to whatever channel you want).
  • Paid ads: Where are you buying ads, how aggressively are you pushing paid ads, and how are you communicating with your customers through paid ads?
  • Social media marketing: Do you want to pursue paid ads through social media marketing? Should you connect with influencers to push specific products? 

Omnichannel Strategies Help Optimize Channel Mix

An omnichannel approach means that customers have a seamless experience with your brand, but that doesn’t mean that you are putting in equal resources and energy into all channels. You can optimize your sales channel mix based on your audience, product type, and even the stage your business is at.

 For example, you may decide to only target a small market or subsection of customers when you first start selling a product. As your product gains traction, and you begin to understand more about what kinds of customers want your product, an omnichannel strategy makes creating new channels (and managing channel partnerships) more straightforward and streamlined.

Key Factors in Building an Omnichannel Strategy

For growing, scaling business, establishing an omnichannel strategy early can prevent a lot of headaches in the future. However, as you’ve seen, omnichannel strategies are inherently complex and can be difficult to execute for a number of reasons. While the specific difficulties will vary depending on your specific business and product, here are three key factors to consider (regardless of what you’re selling):

You MUST Have Consistent Brand Identity Across Platforms

An omnichannel approach doesn’t work if your brand identity across platforms isn’t consistent. Whether customers are interacting with your brand through an app, a website, or a marketplace platform, they need to see the same brand. Your brand voice, word choice, and values need to be clearly communicated through any channel customers come into contact with. 

mobile shopping experience

Mobile and PC Experiences Need to Both Be Easy to Use

Along with the idea of consistent brand identity, the ease of access to your product needs to be the same across all platforms. If it’s really easy and straightforward for customers to buy products through your app, but it’s clunky and frustrating through your website, this isn’t a true omnichannel approach (and you’ll be losing customers who don’t like to shop through their smartphones).

If you create a sales channel for customers, you need to make sure those channels are easy to use.  

Back-End Inventory Management and Fulfillment Systems Must Be Fully Integrated

One of the biggest challenges to an omnichannel strategy is creating omnichannel fulfillment systems. Since none of your sales channels are truly separate, that means all of the following are handled in a unified system:

  • Customer orders from all channels and all market locations
  • Fulfillment and shipping to all locations
  • Inventory management, including stock levels 
  • Inventory order for when stock runs low
  • Order returns from any customer in any location

Making sure that any given order from any given sales channel and any given geographical location is fulfilled by the appropriate warehouse, and that available inventory is accurately shown across sales channels, is key to a successful omnichannel strategy. 

Challenges of Implementing an Omnichannel Strategy

Even though omnichannel commerce is important and provides excellent benefits, it’s definitely not easy. The challenges of implementing an omnichannel strategy are likely apparent by now, but it’s worth highlighting the most consistent issues that we’ve seen clients run into when trying to establish a true, omnichannel strategy:

Establishing Consistent Brand Voice and Identity Across Multiple Channels Is a Huge Challenge

We’ve hammered on the idea of a consistent brand voice in this article, but it isn’t easy to establish a solid brand identity in general, let alone a consistent brand voice across multiple channels. You have to consider how to position your brand and product to a variety of customers in very different mediums. 

Social media channels

For example, how do you authentically represent your brand while using Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok? How do customers get a real feel for who you are as a company while you are trying to appeal to very different market segments? How do you make sure very different sales channels (like PC vs mobile) communicate the same brand voice? 

There’s no clear cut answer to this question, and how you decide to move forward will be entirely dependent on your brand values, your business goals, and even your specific product. Despite the difficulty, you have to remember: A poor experience in any given channel can ruin the brand experience for all channels, so creating a plan for consistency is a must. 

Integrating All Inventory and Fulfillment Systems Is Extremely Complex

As you might have expected, creating a truly integrated back-end system for all of your sales channels and fulfillment needs. Many of our clients have come to us to help them with an omnichannel strategy specifically because they need our expertise in inventory management systems. 

If you don’t have meaningful experience working with fulfillment systems common to ecommerce, you won’t have any success trying to create a backend system for a complicated omnichannel approach. Since the customer experience is key, you can’t risk order fulfillment problems (like double fulfillment, missed fulfillment, or improper shipping expectations), your back-end systems need to be functioning as intended from the start. 

Omnichannel Fulfillment and China Fulfillment: How They Work Together

When your business looks to implement an omnichannel commerce strategy, your fulfillment strategy will likely evolve into more of an omnichannel fulfillment structure. EcommOps has had a lot of our clients either move to China fulfillment as their primary fulfillment strategy (or even incorporate China fulfillment into their existing supply chain). 

If you aren’t familiar with China fulfillment, here’s a brief description of how it works:

  • You place an order for inventory with a China factory. 
  • That factory manufactures your order and ships it to a nearby, China-based fulfillment center. 
  • The China-based fulfillment center ships orders directly to customers around the world. 

This strategy cuts out sea freight shipping and customs entirely, cuts the cost of shipping to international customers by 50% or more, and short lead times between factories and the fulfillment center mean you can order smaller amounts of inventory at a time. 

That’s a basic overview of China fulfillment, but let’s take a look at how China fulfillment can be a key part of your omnichannel fulfillment strategies.

ecommerce dtc warehouse

Hybrid Omnichannel Fulfillment with China Fulfillment

Again, specifically how this looks depends on your precise business operations, but here is a general idea of how a large scale fulfillment operation can incorporate China fulfillment to add flexibility and resiliency to their omnichannel commerce operations:

  • Your domestic warehouses fulfill customer orders as orders arrive
  • When specific warehouses hit a predetermined inventory threshold, a traditional bulk order is placed with partnered factories (which will be shipped via sea freight).
  • If the domestic warehouse runs out of inventory (whether that is due to a spike in demand or because of a delay in shipping the bulk order), fulfillment automatically switches from your domestic warehouse to your China fulfillment center.
  • You need to be sure that customers receive appropriate shipping expectations (depending on their location, China fulfillment may take longer than shipping from a domestic warehouse), though the average China fulfillment times are around 5-8 days
  • There is no interruption in fulfilling orders, since lead times between your China factory and China fulfillment center are sometimes as low as 24 hours
  • When the bulk shipment is received and cataloged into your domestic warehouse, fulfillment switches from the China fulfillment center back to your preferred warehouse. 

While complicated, this approach offers excellent benefits, including:

  • Not having to decide to overstock a warehouse or risk selling out and missing demand
  • All sales channels having available inventory at the same time.
  • The option to break into international markets more easily and still provide an excellent customer experience. 

EcommOps: Omnichannel and China Fulfillment Experts

Omnichannel commerce presents an exciting opportunity for many businesses who are looking to create a seamless customer experience through multiple sales channels and points of contact. We’ve seen clients implement an omnichannel approach into their operations to enormous success, and our support has been key to unifying their back-end inventory systems without any kind of problem, delay, or poor customer experiences. 

EcommOps are the leaders in China fulfillment, and our meaningful expertise in inventory warehousing positions us to help businesses solve the complicated logistics of an omnichannel approach. 

If you are planning to use multiple sales channels to scale, and if you plan on using multiple sales channels to break into new markets, Ecommops would love to connect. Fill out our online form, and our team will get in touch to start the foundation of the specific kind of omnichannel strategy that will work perfectly for your business structure.

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