Understanding Multi Channel Fulfillment

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Published on: July 14, 2023

Multichannel fulfillment is the process of picking, packing, and shipping customer orders across a variety of sales channels. It’s similar to omnichannel fulfillment in that it involves more than one sales channel—but where omnichannel fulfillment focuses on data integration across channels, multichannel fulfillment keeps sales channels separate, and data siloed

(A data silo is a set of information/data that is isolated from other data within a digital ecosystem. “Siloed data” means data that doesn’t automatically communicate with other data in the system—if you want the rest of the system to access that data, you have to do it manually.) 

A 2016 Harvard Business Review study of over 46,000 retail customers found:

  • 73% of consumers shopped via multiple channels (in-store and online, vs. in-store only or online only) 
  • On average, multichannel shoppers spent 4% more in-store and 10% more online than single-channel shoppers
  • Each additional channel resulted in more spending—customers who used 4+ channels spent 9% more in-store  
  • Multichannel shoppers showed more loyalty than single-channel shoppers—logging 23% more repeat shopping trips within six months.

Each year, ecommerce accounts for a bigger percentage of total retail sales. Brick-and-mortar alone is increasingly not profitable for most businesses. For ecommerce businesses, multichannel is practically the default—utilizing multiple online storefronts, retailer websites, ecommerce marketplaces, and so on. 

Cleo’s 2023 Global Supply Chain Executive Report found that 99% of companies surveyed added new sales channels in 2022, with 51% adding three or more. And it paid off. Adding new channels led to quantifiable improvements in business agility, continuity, and scalability—as well as increased profits

The future of shopping is ecommerce. 

The future of ecommerce is multichannel. 
And the future of multichannel is omnichannel—but since omnichannel is essentially multichannel with extra steps, let’s first nail down the basics of multichannel fulfillment.

What is Multi-Channel Fulfillment?

Let’s take a closer look at the definition provided above.

Multichannel fulfillment is the process of picking, packing, and shipping customer orders across a variety of sales channels.

A sales channel is any method, tool, or pathway a business uses to sell a product or service. Examples of sales channels: brick-and-mortar stores, ecommerce websites, retail partners, ecommerce marketplaces (e.g., Amazon), mobile apps, social media, email marketing, affiliate partnerships… and so on. 
Order fulfillment refers to the processes involved with satisfying customer orders. The process starts when a customer places an order, ends when they receive their order, and covers all steps in between: order processing, picking/packing/shipping, carrier transport, and delivery to the customer’s door.

In a multichannel fulfillment model, each sales channel likely has separate inventories, order processing workflows, and shipping options and methods.

For example

Let’s say you have a DTC (direct-to-consumer) business selling handmade tie-dye shirts. You sell shirts via two ecommerce channels: your website and an Amazon storefront. With multichannel fulfillment, each channel uses a separate inventory and fulfillment method. Orders placed on your website are handled by an ecommerce fulfillment provider, and orders placed on Amazon are handled by FBA (Fulfillment By Amazon). 
In this example, those two companies do not communicate with each other. Your inventory is stored in two separate fulfillment centers: one owned by the fulfillment provider and one owned by Amazon. Each fulfillment center uses a different WMS (Warehouse Management System), and those systems do not share data. There is no centralized database that stores all your order and inventory management data in one place. There is no crossover between the operations.

Multi-Channel Fulfillment vs Omnichannel Fulfillment

All omnichannel is multichannel, but not all multichannel is omnichannel.

Both fulfillment methods have to do with picking, packing, and shipping customer orders across more than one sales channel. The main difference is that omnichannel strategy focuses on synchronization, not separation, of data. 

Recall the earlier example, where you sell tie-dye shirts via your website and an Amazon storefront. In a multichannel fulfillment model, your customer service, order fulfillment, returns processing, etc. are handled by various providers depending on the sales channel. In an omnichannel model, your customer service, fulfillment, returns processing, etc. are all handled by one provider that coordinates all your logistics and fulfillment needs across all channels.

How does that affect the customer experience?

For example…. 

Say you have a business selling handmade candles. You have a local brick-and-mortar storefront, a website, and an Instagram page. A customer sees your ad on Instagram, clicks through, and places an order via your website. When the order arrives, they realize they accidentally bought two of the same candle. Now they want to exchange one for a different scent. They know you’re a local business, so they stop by your store.

Scenario A: Multichannel fulfillment Scenario B: Omnichannel fulfillment

The customer attempts to exchange one candle for another in-store, but their original purchase was online. Your online order fulfillment system is not connected to your brick-and-mortar store.

The customer has to complete the returns process through your website instead.

The customer’s original purchase was online, but your online order fulfillment system is connected to a database that shares information with your brick-and-mortar store.

You are able to locate the customer’s purchase in the system and complete the return in-store.

In both scenarios, the customer has accessed your business via three channels: social media, your website, and your brick-and-mortar store. In Scenario A, those three channels are cut off from each other—so, despite showing up to your store in person, the customer cannot complete their return. They have to go home and mail the candle back to your fulfillment center. 

In Scenario B, the three channels are all synchronized—sharing data. The customer is able to cross seamlessly between channels. 

Why does this matter? It’s not just about the “hassle” factor. As more and more businesses make the switch to omnichannel operations, it’s important to remember that customers don’t view your business as multichannel—even if it is. 

A customer does not consider “brick-and-mortar Target store” and “Target.com” to be different operations. If they buy something on Target.com, they expect to be able to return the item in any Target store. And it’s the same for any size business. Today’s customers expect a unified brand experience across channels. They expect to be able to navigate from your Instagram page to your website to your Amazon storefront to your brick-and-mortar store, etc., and have all those channels “remember” them. They expect synchronization
Major retailers are well aware of this. Retailers like Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and more have prioritized preparing for an omnichannel future—ensuring customer data is synced across stores, websites, mobile apps, social media, email marketing, and so on.

Why Use Multi-Channel Order Fulfillment

There are many reasons to use a multichannel fulfillment model—especially in comparison to a single-channel model, which limits your sales and reach to that one channel. 

Cleo’s 2023 Global Supply Chain Executive Report found that 99% of companies surveyed added new sales channels in 2022. As a result, these companies experienced improved business agility—the ability to quickly adapt and pivot to marketplace changes—and resiliency in the face of supply chain disruptions
Many also invested in supply chain technology such as ecommerce platforms, integration software, and WMS (Warehouse Management System), highlighting the importance of multichannel fulfillment solutions for business continuity and success. 

Customer Experience

Again, the vast majority of today’s customers prefer to access a business through multiple channels, switching between in-person, online, mobile, and so on depending on what they’re looking for and what’s convenient. Multichannel fulfillment supports a cross-channel business model, allowing customers to place orders through whichever channel works best for them—including options such as the increasingly popular Buy Online, Pick Up In Store. It also allows for greater variety in shipping options if you’re working with multiple 3PLs or carriers.

Revenue Growth

Ecommerce marketplaces have begun to replace Google in terms of where customers start their search for a product. Having a storefront on Amazon, Shopify, WooCommerce, and so on is a highly effective way to bring in more customers and provide an easy, familiar, convenient way to place an order. 

More lines of business = more ways for customers to find and buy your products. It’s as simple as that. However, more lines of business also = more things to manage. With multichannel operations, where you have separate inventories and fulfillment methods for separate channels, it’s absolutely vital to maintain accurate, up-to-date records to ensure proper management of orders and inventory.


In general, going multichannel means partnering with at least one 3PL provider to handle your logistics and fulfill orders. Of course, it’s important to choose the right provider—but assuming you’re working with a high-quality 3PL, outsourcing your logistics management saves you time, money, and stress in the long run. 

With a good 3PL, you can expect >99% On-Time Delivery and order accuracy rates, plus fast shipping, discounted bulk shipping, seamless returns management, and value-add services such as kitting and special packaging. All of this adds up to create the best possible customer experience: fast, convenient, hassle-free, and consistent no matter which channel they use to place an order.

Brand Visibility

As shopping moves increasingly online, utilizing all available sales channels—websites, retailer websites, social media, mobile apps, etc.—has become part of any well-rounded marketing strategy. In combination with a targeted marketing campaign, a multichannel fulfillment operation expands your brand’s reach to a broader customer base. Most importantly, you’re able to reach customers where they are, via their preferred channels.

Higher levels of brand visibility—i.e., more people seeing your brand/product—make it all the more important to provide a consistent brand experience across channels. Customers should get the same quality of experience no matter where they shop. With so many options at their fingertips, a negative experience at any stage of the customer journey—navigating your website, placing an order, receiving and unboxing the order, returning it if necessary—can mean losing that customer. When you’re selling across multiple channels, you need to maintain a high level of control over every aspect of your business.

Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment

Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment (MCF) is an option for ecommerce businesses where Amazon fulfills orders across all your ecommerce sales channels. You do not have to be an Amazon seller to use Amazon MCF. 

How it works:

Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment (MCF) vs. Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)

Amazon FBA is for orders placed on the Amazon marketplace. Amazon MCF is for orders placed on Amazon and non-Amazon marketplaces.

Amazon MCF storage fees and shipping costs are pay-as-you-go based on product dimensions, weight, size, and shipping speed. Amazon Customer Service does not handle MCF orders—as the merchant, you’re responsible for your own customer service.

Working With a Fulfillment Partner

Multichannel fulfillment only works with the right partner—one equipped to handle inventory management, order fulfillment, customer service, and more across various sales channels. The right partner makes your life easier and your customers’ lives better, delivering a stellar experience every time. 

With so many 3PL providers out there, choosing the right one for your business can seem daunting. Every 3PL offers slightly different services and specialties, with different pricing structures, contracts, Service Level Guarantees, and expertise in the ever-changing landscape of retail and ecommerce.

Want to know where to start? Check out our FREE downloadable 3PL Guide. This 5-part resource walks you through the entire 3PL evaluation process, from first step to final mile. You’ll get:

  • 6 steps to evaluate potential 3PL partners
  • 11 questions to ask a 3PL
  • Common 3PL pain points
  • How to craft a strong 3PL RFP (Request for Proposal) + template
  • 3PL red flags vs. green flags
  • What to look for in a fulfillment agreement
  • Top tips, followup interview Qs, suggested evaluation criteria, and more.

We created this guide because every business has different needs. We’d love the chance to see if we meet yours—that’s why we provide free consultation calls. But no one 3PL can be the perfect fit for every business, so we designed this resource with the goal of providing as much information, advice, and insider tips as possible to ease your fulfillment journey—whether it leads you to us or not.


In this article, we covered multichannel order fulfillment, how it differs from omnichannel fulfillment, and how to use it to your best advantage. 

Looking for an experienced multichannel fulfillment partner? Connect with an EcomHalo Guardian for your free 15-minute consultation call to receive:

  • An overview of our multichannel fulfillment services
  • Pricing options and a free quote
  • Referrals to other 3PLs if we’re not the right fit

And finally—here’s the link to your free 3PL Evaluation Guide.

Julie Massey
Julie Massey

Julie Massey is a dynamic business development leader with a decade of experience and a consistent record of achievement in SaaS, logistics, medical device and pharmaceuticals. Julie spent eight years in healthcare sales gaining broad experience across capital equipment, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals with companies ranging from start-up to Fortune 10. She has worked with such companies as WalkMed Infusion, AmerisourceBergen and Johnson & Johnson.

Julie is a graduate of the University of Alabama, a travel and fitness enthusiast, and currently resides in Fort Lauderdale with her fiancé Ryan and their dog Moose.