What is Omnichannel Retail? Definition and Examples (2024)


Retailers today face a big challenge, as the shopping habits of consumers span multiple channels, from physical stores to Google to YouTube. 

As a result, omnichannel is now a baseline expectation

Traditional retail strategies often fall short, failing to provide a cohesive and personalized shopping experience across all channels. This lack of consistency can lead to customer frustration and missed sales. 

Enter omnichannel retail—a model that seamlessly blends various shopping channels into one unified customer experience.

Ahead, you’ll learn the basics of omnichannel retailing and how to create your own omnichannel experience for customers. 

Table of contents:

What is omnichannel retail?

Omnichannel retailing is a fully integrated approach to commerce, providing shoppers a unified experience across all channels or touchpoints. Omnichannel retailing allows merchants to reach customers where they want to buy products.

True omnichannel shopping goes beyond brick-and-mortar locations to mobile devices, online marketplaces, social media, and wherever your users browse online through retargeting ads.

Some 70% of customers spend more on brands with a smart omnichannel strategy. It may be that it’s easier to measure single variables like efforts focused exclusively on mobile, marketing, or merchandising strategies. But integrating all of these touchpoints into a holistic omnichannel approach is the only way to fully realize the potential of each touchpoint.

Conceptually, omnichannel is rather simple—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Omnichannel involves integrating each touchpoint to offer the customer exactly what they need, the moment they need it, anywhere they are, and on any device. What’s complex is executing in both the digital and physical worlds simultaneously.

Overcoming these obstacles starts with envisioning your omnichannel marketing campaigns.

Learn more:Omnichannel vs. multichannel

Benefits of omnichannel retail

Connect with customers on any channels

The customer journey is not linear. It’s an intricate web of touchpoints that span across online and offline channels. In a 2022 Salsify report, respondents from the US, UK, Germany, and France reported they engage on at least 11 different touchpoints. 

Convenience is a driving factor in this shopping experience. Some 87% of millennials say convenience is important when shopping. They value the ability to engage with brands and buy products whenever and wherever they want. 

Omnichannel retail helps you build a strong, coordinated presence across all those touchpoints. 

Create more personalized experiences

Customers want deeper personalization from brands. Some 62% of consumers think companies could do a better job tailoring their experiences. They want companies to understand their needs and preferences and tailor the shopping experience accordingly. 

Omnichannel retail helps you personalize the experience across all touchpoints using data. This includes purchase history, browsing behavior, demographic information, and more to accommodate each customer’s preferences. 

Build customer loyalty

Part of an omnichannel strategy is being flexible. New channels emerge and steal attention from incumbent channels. It’s why brands with robust omnichannel strategies often rely on a headless commerce architecture, which allows brands to flexibly offer commerce anywhere customers are.

Besides positioning brands to use new channels to acquire customers, omnichannel also better positions brands to deepen relationships with existing customers. Remember, omnichannel customers spend more, especially when the effort is used as part of an intentional customer retention strategy.

Omnichannel is a customer retention lynchpin; inspiring customers to make repeat purchases quicker, increasing customer loyalty, and lifting the lifetime value of your customers.

Sell more

When you expand across multiple channels, you can reach more customers and increase sales. Customers can switch between platforms and channels and have the same shopping experience, which encourages them to buy. 

Animals Matter spent years selling its products to retailers entirely through catalogs. It wasn’t until switching to Shopify Plus that it was able to create a fully integrated experience across channels like Facebook, Google Ads, Pinterest, and, most importantly, its ecommerce store. After moving to omnichannel retail, the brand saw a 45% increase in YOY sales

How omnichannel retail works

Omnichannel is consistent, yet unique. It’s about allowing consumers to purchase wherever they are while communicating in a way that is in tune with why they use a given channel and showing awareness of their stage in the customer lifecycle.

Here’s how an omnichannel customer experience might look:

  • A customer discovers and buys from you on Amazon.
  • They receive a tailored-for-Amazon unboxing experience, with inserts that promote inventory not found on Amazon, along with a discount, information about your loyalty program and retail experiences (i.e., store or pop-up), and a URL to a dedicated collection page on your site.
  • The landing page triggers tracking codes that will later retarget the customer with ads about products complementary to their original purchase on Facebook, Pinterest, or Google.
  • After the second purchase, the customer receives an email notifying them of a nearby retail storefront or event.
  • Before your next pop-up, loyal customers are sent a link to a private collection and invited to an exclusive, members-only VIP lounge via Facebook Messenger.

This omnichannel user journey leverages information about one sales channel to invite the customer to participate in another. Those actions feel native to the given channel rather than forced or contrived.

Done well, buyers seamlessly transition from one channel to the next, blissfully falling deeper into the brand experience.

How to create a successful omnichannel retail strategy

  1. Understand where customers shop
  2. Reflect your branding across all channels
  3. Integrate your systems
  4. Personalize the customer experience 
  5. Optimize inventory management 

1. Understand where customers shop

With new screens and channels emerging, it’s tempting to think that you must be everywhere. Resist the urge. Remember, efficiently executing an omnichannel strategy requires only that you’re everywhere your customers are.

Done well, the result is the perception that your brand is omnipresent. Your advertising, public relations, SEO, and commerce offerings overlap to form a branded and seamless experience. Do this by focusing on:

  • Online “discovery” touchpoints
  • Geographic locations
  • Devices being used

Where many brand marketers will ask, “How can I reach the most people on X, Y, and Z channel,” the omnichannel marketer looks and asks, “How do these channels overlap?”

Identify where your target market is spending time and attention and insert your brand at the intersections of those properties. For example, invite admirers of a product touted on Instagram to a Facebook Live stream offering a product demonstration.

With this in mind, the omnichannel marketer can create powerful cross-channel retargeting campaigns. Especially after a shopper abandons their cart, earn trust by telling a compelling story with different ad formats (across multiple channels) that illustrates what it’s like to purchase from you.

This is how you become omnipresent—not only are you increasing awareness, but leveraging the trust your target market already has for the channel in which you’re engaging.

2. Reflect your branding across all channels 

Consistency is key. Your branding should be the same across all your channels. Customers should know who you are whether they are interacting with you on social media platforms, your website, or in physical stores.

Take a brand like Nike. Regardless of where you interact with it—be it online, in-store, or through one of its apps—Nike maintains consistent messaging and aesthetic, one that promotes empowerment, athleticism, and high-quality products.

Side by side view of the Nike Run Club mobile app and Nike’s ecommerce website Side by side view of the Nike Run Club mobile app and Nike’s ecommerce website

Nike maintains the same feel across its Nike Run Club app and ecommerce site.

Make sure all your customer touchpoints are in line with your brand guidelines. Everything should reflect your brand, from your website design to your retail store experience. 

3. Integrate your systems

System integration links various IT systems, services, and software together. 

Shopify Plus provides a centralized platform where you can manage all your omnichannel activities. It integrates with your existing IT systems, including: 

  • ERP (enterprise resource planning)
  • CRM (customer relationship management)
  • PIM (product information management)
  • POS (point of sale) 

You can create a seamless flow of data between your activities and operate more efficiently. 

Allbirds, a global fashion startup, faced challenges managing its retail spaces and improving omnichannel capabilities. It required a point-of-sale (POS) system that could handle peak retail foot traffic and leverage customer data for inventory decisions and in-store conversions. 

By integrating Shopify POS across its 20 stores, it managed to increase conversions using buy in-store, ship to customer technology, which streamlined the checkout process and boosted customer satisfaction. 

Further, intelligent inventory management allowed Allbirds to maintain less in-store stock and gather valuable insights about customer preferences, reinforcing its omnichannel retail strategy and improving customer experiences without the need for complex back-end systems.

👉Read how Allbirds increased conversions by improving omnichannel operations.

4. Personalize the customer experience

Once your systems are connected, collect and use customer data to create unique interactions for each customer. You can use data like history, browsing behavior, or personal preferences to tailor the online shopping experience. 

Pura Vida excels in personalization. It uses data to offer personalized product recommendations and adjust the experience based on the individual. An engaging and satisfying experience like this results in higher sales.

Pura Vida offering recommended products for the browser.

Pura Vida recommends products based on a browser’s behavior.

5. Optimize inventory management

To run an omnichannel operation, you’ll need accurate and real-time inventory visibility across all your sales channels. Your supply chain should be ready to handle orders from various physical and digital channels at once. 

Walmart has an integrated inventory management system that keeps track of inventory in real time across all its stores. As a result, it can implement strategies like BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) effectively.

Make sure your inventory management system gives you real-time visibility across all your channels. Identify trends and forecast demand by analyzing your sales data. Keep in mind seasonal variations, promotions, and other factors that might influence demand.

Learn more from five of the best omnichannel brands

Omnichannel retailing can help you unlock growth

A seamless shopping experience across different channels is critical to succeed in the retail industry. Retailers have to adapt their business models to meet customers where they are and improve profitability. 

Single-channel retail, marketing, and merchandising may one day be obsolete. That’s where omnichannel commerce comes in. 

With a platform like Shopify Plus, you build customer engagement across all your channels, whether in-person or online. Plus, unlock new channels for growth and future-proof your business with omnichannel functionality.

Omnichannel retail FAQ

What is omnichannel retail?

Omnichannel retail is defined as selling and transacting across many channels. Those channels can be through ecommerce, marketplaces, in-store experience, and social commerce.

What is an example of omnichannel retail?

An example of omnichannel retail is when a brick-and-mortar store sells its products through Instagram, on its online store, and in global marketplaces.

Why is omnichannel retail important?

Omnichannel retail is important because it meets your customers where they want to buy products. If your customers are shopping online using Instagram, chances are they do not want to leave the platform. Instead they want a seamless buying experience. Omnichannel retail makes it possible for online retailers to sell everywhere, where customers want to be.

How does omnichannel impact your customers?

Omnichannel retail impacts customers by simplifying their shopping experience. Omnichannel retail helps customers access information and find and compare products.

About the author

Michael Keenan

Michael is a SaaS Marketer and SEO and founder of Peak Freelance. He’s inspired by learning people’s stories, climbing mountains, and traveling with his partner and two Xoloitzcuintles.