In China, there is no line between online and offline.
O2O, online-offline commerce, is an important trend. But few executives seem to know how to apply it and its competitive implications.
Most CEOs in B2B operations will know too well that digitalisation has greatly altered their industry landscape - some believe for the better - but more find it challenging to navigate around this trend and use it to for their commercial advantage. Many B2Bs in China have done a fantastic job of embracing technology to increase internal efficiency. Many have still to create a digital experience capable of completing a sales generation process or to improve customer experience overall.
According to 2017 data released by McKinsey:
Although digitisation has significantly disrupted B2B businesses, the ultimate goal for them remains unchanged; and that is to persuade decision makers to purchase your product or service.
Decision makers never have enough time to make purchases, and always want to feel they have scored a good deal and made a smart decision. Digitalisation has accentuated the product-acquisition experience that compensates for busy schedules, tedious contracts, long sourcing and delivery times, while still offering decision-makers the piece of mind that if they give Businesses the order they will be able to complete it cheaper, better, faster.
To understand how B2B can use digitalisation to their advantage, theAsianIR has been writing articles on a growing trend called O2O, or online-to-offline commerce, a concept that many firms in China have implemented so well and are using them to reel in larges shares of their respective markets.
A breakdown of what exactly is O2O
Despite the fact that most professionals know that “O2O” is an acronym for Online-to-Offline Commerce, and the term is on its way to becoming an industry buzzword, most executives theAsianIR talks are still grappling over the concept.
Technically speaking, the traditional definition of O2O is anything digital that results in offline consumption. However, in terms of B2B e-commerce we need to be a little more specific.
O2O Commerce: The integration of digital and offline discovery, research, payment and after sales services
An O2O B2B product acquisition experience would look something like this:
Why O2O is perfect for B2B
One of the primary complaints many e-commerce practitioners constantly hear from their clients is that products can look and sound as good as possible on a screen, but without physical interaction, buyers can feel like they are an uneducated buyer purchasing impulsively.
Some people can’t understand why this is important. To those people I ask: Would you purchase a new mattress that you and your significant other will potentially sleep on for the next 3-5 years because it looks perfect on a screen without ever having lain on it? For most of us this is a resounding no! It’s obvious that you should experience the mattress in person before putting your sleep health in jeopardy.
The truth is that, if someone is on your website browsing products, they are a hot sales lead that you can't afford to lose.
So the website or app is always the start of a sales process, followed by an action taken on it. From there, the Company has information about an interest shown on its product or service and will look to either convert them online or bring them in offline, which leads us to another industry buzzword called an Omni-Channel experience.
How B2B businesses can adopt an O2O strategy
Providing decision-makers with an opportunity to physically interact with products is just one important aspect of a great O2O purchasing experience.
Its to note that B2B decision-makers are also B2C decision-makers, people who buy from B2C or marketplace type websites and apps for their personal use. These people have developed habits for researching products that don’t just change whether they are buying on behalf of their firm or themselves.
According to a 2014 Accenture study, 94% of B2B buyers research products online at some point during the buying process. This means that B2B buyers start their purchasing journey on their mobile devices.
At the center of any great O2O experience is the buyer’s mobile device. The customer’s mobile device is their personal portable digital window to the world, and therefore the ideal personal shopping tool.
In a perfect world, all features required for an O2O experience (i.e researching, shortlist, paying, enquiring) should be integrated and optimised for mobile. This is because the core concept of O2O is to offer buyers maximum convenience and flexibility.
The desired outcome is to create a product buying experience that integrates the power of both the online and offline channels and purchasing experiences and convinces buyers to select your brand over the competition’s.
When forming an O2O strategy for an e-commerce operation, important functions required are, but not limited to:
Once a customer is in a display center, they should be able to rely solely on their mobile device to complete all necessary product research. Research can be presented to them on the Company's website or app in the form of comments, reviews, bulletins or links to review sites. The Company's mobile platform will then serve as a shopping guide to help the buyer find the product that meets their needs.
One feature is to bring out the product's information via a QR code, which the buyer can then scan and access all information about the product, compare similar products and see additional features and functions, all from one easily accessible window.
Place orders and Payments
Buyers should be able to complete the transaction in whatever way is easiest for them to spend their money, whether its scan and pay on their phone, going in-store to pay when collecting, or paying on item delivered. Conveniently, this feature allows buyers to avoid waiting in queues when making purchases on their phone, thereby avoiding the chance of churn and increasing the speed of completing an order.
Warehouses and Stock
Having enough of the right products to meet buyer demand is a crucial part of providing a trustworthy O2O experience. This is where the Company can either outsource the warehousing and fulfilment services to a third party, and using the API of that third party to display available stock options.
Buyers should always have the option to communicate directly with customer service from their mobile device, especially having the ability to summon them from inside the display center. With Bots, buyers can also communicate with a ChatBot for any commonly asked questions before taking to a dedicated human customer service.
Product delivery should be offered on-demand at the customers’ convenience, even if that means same-day delivery. In addition, buyers should have the ability to track the product during its entire journey to its final destination, and to elect to receive text updates upon delivery. These capabilities can usually be fulfilled by a third-party delivery company or done in-house.
Separate user interface for the delivery team will allow orders to be tracked in real-time.
After-sales services are an essential part of maintaining trust with buyers. These include product exchanges, returns, repairs, and capacity building. Capacity-building is important for training your clients how to use the products, and it must be offered at their convenience, whether that means on the spot, at the display center, or to accompany the product to its final destination.
At the end of the day, whoever sells quality products or services and can offer buyers the most convenient and enriching experience with peace of mind is one who will win in the age of digitisation.