Even multichannel by itself isn’t enough to keep up with customers’ changing shopping and buying preferences.

Today’s customers want it all. They want to be able to go online and easily find products, prices and delivery information. But they also want to be able to call with questions and speak to a knowledgeable service rep. Some still want to look at pictures in a catalog.

But no matter how they interact with you, they want it to be seamless.

In other words, what customers really want is an omnichannel shopping, buying and service experience. What separates an omnichannel experience from mere multichannel is integration. That means your customer’s experience is consistent, no matter how they interact with you. It means the entire shopping, sales and service process is linked, and every interaction along that path, and how your company responded, is immediately accessible to any front-line employee. And the status of an order placed offline with a sales rep can be checked online and vice versa.

It’s important to remember that, from a customer’s point of view, an omnichannel experience isn’t just shopping or buying. Rather, it is every occasion a customer has to connect with a distributor. One obvious example is a repair. A customer who needs a repair may start by going to your website, and if the option is available, may chat online with a service rep. But if the issue is complicated, it may require the involvement of a distributor support expert. That conversation will proceed much more smoothly, and more likely result in a solution for the customer, if that expert can instantly access a history of the customer’s purchases and inventory.

To offer that kind of seamless experience means distributors first must build a strategy that allows customers to shop when, where and how they want, whether it is digital, in person, in print, or in some combination of all those. That strategy must be built on a solid infrastructure, including tools like CRM, marketing automation, click-to-chat and other technology that can drive the experience a customer is looking for.

Many larger distributors already offer these seamless experiences, and they increasingly are taking market share from smaller competitors.

These distributors don’t make the mistake of assuming all customers want the same thing. Or that a particular customer will always want to shop, order and communicate with you in the same using the same channel. Market research has shown time and again that buyers now prefer search for shopping and email for ordering, but they all shop and buy across all other channels.

And even the same buyer will move back and forth from one channel to another. For example, our ongoing survey of more than 10,000 distributors’ customers has found that only a small percentage of those who shop online eventually place an order on the distributor’s website. Most will do research on the website, and then pick up the phone or send an email to send the actual order.

What that means for distributors is that just using email or search engine marketing won’t allow you to be as fully and easily accessible to your customers as you could be – or as your competitors might already be.

Read more about creating a seamless experience for your customers: Why Distributors Must Invest in a Better Online Shopping Experience – Now