Omnichannel vs. Platform. What's the Difference?

Jan 20, 2015 — Chris Street
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What is an omnichannel, and what is a platform? The two words appear frequently in retail and marketing conversations so let’s start with an experience I had last summer that involved both.

I was working on a backyard project building a garden shed when I realized I was missing the hardware for the door – latches, hinges, and handles – but I had a flyer for a big-box store handy so I quickly searched for what I was looking for. Right there, on page four, was the package I needed, door hardware for garden sheds. Perfect.

Now, I’ve been disappointed before by going to the retail outlet to get something advertised only to find it wasn’t in stock or was at another store across the city so I checked the store’s website on my mobile phone to see if the item I wanted was actually in stock. And there it was, three left in stock at the store in my neighborhood. I went to the store, found a clerk, showed her the picture on my cell phone, she looked it up on her handheld scanner, and then she turned to me with a look I recognize only too well. “We don’t have those in stock right now, but I am showing two of them at our west-end location, would you like me to call them to verify that they are in fact there?”

She turned to me with a look I recognize only too well. “We don’t have those in stock right now"...

The experience of shopping has always involved retailers communicating with us as consumers to inform us about what they have to offer. The simplest channel between retailer and consumer has always been through print – signs, catalogs, etc. – but today the channels also include websites, mobile applications, self-serve kiosks, digital advertising, social media, point-of-sale and even after-sales service.

The problem I experienced last summer was not being able to purchase the item, but the larger problem everyone experiences is when a retailer’s marketing channels communicate inconsistent messages to a consumer. Ideally, each channel should provide a consistent message so that what I see in the flyer or website corresponds with what I find at the retailer’s store.

Providing an omnichannel experience requires integration of the activities and data that a retailer uses to market and sell products.

What I encountered was a split-channel approach to marketing and the experience was terrible. What I wanted to encounter was a universal, ‘omnichannel’, approach, which would have been satisfying and would have resulted in a sale for the retailer.

Omnichannel means that an experience that starts with a catalog or website at home should seamlessly transfer to the mobile app while in transit, to self-serve screens at the retailer, and eventually to POS services online or in the physical store.

The digital environment that provides this [integration] is commonly called the commerce platform.

Providing this experience requires integration of the activities and data that a retailer uses to market and sell products. This type of integration is difficult; it requires the retailer to create a digital environment that is centralized and coordinated to the extent that information going to consumers through the Internet (website, mobile apps) is the same as that going to in-store kiosks and checkouts, as well as to the retailer’s marketing people working in the advertising and promotional departments.

The digital environment that provides this is commonly called the commerce platform (or just the ‘platform’), and an omnichannel experience results when the retailer uses the commerce platform to generate a continuous tailored consumer experience across brands, formats, and devices regardless of where or when that experience occurs.

So rather than thinking of omnichannel and platform as being synonymous or even competing ideas, the best way to frame the terms is to view platform as being the foundation of a successful omnichannel strategy.  

Find out more about iQmetrix's Platform development philosophy.

Topics: Retail Operations, Customer Experience, Platform & Omnichannel

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