Research

Omnichannel vs. multi-channel testing

What's the difference?
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If you’re in the UX industry, you’ve probably heard the words omni-channel and multi-channel getting thrown around, but when it comes to defining them, things get a little hazy.

The main difference between these two methodologies lies in the process being tested.

If you want to test a single process that spans multiple devices, you want omni-channel testing.

If you want to test the same process on a range of devices, you want multi-channel testing.

To make it easier to remember, all omni-channel experiences are multi-channel, but not the other way around. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Omni-channel testing example

Imagine you own a budgeting app. The app has both desktop and mobile versions that are used for different purposes. The desktop is where users set up their accounts, incomes, and categories of spending, and the mobile application is for logging and monitoring the users’ expenses as they go.

To test all aspects of the experience, you’d want to have users go through omni-channel testing:

  1. Initially, they would take a test to set up their accounts on the desktops
  2. Next, they would take a separate test on their mobile devices to log or track their financial activity

It’s all part of a massive set of tasks, some of which are accomplished on desktop and some of which are suited for mobile.

In this case, the users would need to be the same for each set of devices, so each user would take BOTH a desktop and a smartphone test.

To guarantee the test goes as intended, we recommend planning ahead to ensure that contributors have all the required smart devices beforehand. A potential drawback is that not all contributors may own multiple devices, but this would be something to require in your screener questions.

Multi-channel testing example

Imagine you own a cable television station, and you have set up a site with responsive design. Users are able to look up shows, showtimes, news, and clips on any device.

Of course, you want to ensure that users can properly visit and see all elements of the site. So through thorough testing, you would set up a multi-channel study—having users perform common tasks on desktop, mobile, and tablet devices to determine any issues. 

In this case, the users would not need to repeat the study on all devices; each user would complete the test on only one device. In other words, one set of users would test the desktop experience, a second set would take the tablet tests, and a third set would evaluate the smartphone experience.

Combination of both methods example

Now, imagine you own a toy store and the website has a wishlist feature, but your analytics are showing you that conversion is much lower for users who make their lists on their smartphones versus on desktop. You can use BOTH types of testing to figure out why this might be.

Multi-channel

To test the overall usability of the wishlist feature, you could run some multi-channel testing and see if any mobile-specific issues appear, whether it’s too many steps, technical issues, or a confusing setup

Omni-channel

You can also set up some omnichannel testing and let users explain when and why they would make the switch to their desktops—the issue might have nothing to do with the wishlist feature at all!

It could be that their payment information isn’t saved on the device, or that people don’t want to pull out their credit cards and make purchases in the middle of a waiting room or supermarket, wherever they might be. It could also be that they need to refer to their personal budgets before committing to a purchase. Or, the checkout button isn’t displaying correctly, or at all, when they reach the cart page. You never know until you test!

We recommend conducting both omni-channel and multi-channel studies before committing to redesigning—to pinpoint any potential improvements.

How UserTesting can help you get started with omni-channel and multi-channel testing

As you can see in the last example, many sites and apps benefit from both multi-channel AND omnichannel testing; it depends on what kinds of processes your users are attempting to do.

If you’re leaning towards an omni-channel study, consider this use case to get started. Ask your contributors to research a product on their smartphone and speak aloud as they complete the tasks. Next, ask them to check competitor prices on a desktop computer. This can be followed by having them complete the checkout price on a new smart device, like a tablet. Throughout the study, consider asking contributors their device preferences for specific tasks and why, or what makes them want to switch to a new device.

If a multi-channel study makes more sense for your needs, consider two options. You can either assign multiple groups of contributors one channel (device) to test, whether one tests mobile phones and the other does tablets. Or, write a singular plan and have contributors complete the same tasks, but on various devices. This might be the most time-consuming option but also rewarding for deciphering conversion trends. As a plus, you can even save your favorite contributors on the UserTesting platform if you’re interested in enlisting them in the future.

Having both of these buzzworthy methodologies in your back pocket is just another way to take your UX research—and ideally , your product—to the next level.

Want to learn more?

Grab a copy of User Tested: How the World's Top Companies Use Human Insight to Create Great Experiences, co-authored by UserTesting’s CIO Janelle Estes and CEO Andy MacMillan.

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