O2O, or online-to-offline commerce, is an important trend. But few B2B executives seem to understand its competitive implications.

Anyone who is part of a business-to-business operation knows all too well that digitization has greatly altered their industry landscape—some believe for the better—but most just see more challenges. Many B2Bs have done a fantastic job of embracing technology for increasing internal efficiency, however have failed to integrate a digital experience into the sales generation process, or into improving the customer experience.

According to 2017 data released by McKinsey:

  • Only 10% of B2B companies surveyed said digital was a top priority
  • Only 24% of B2B executives understand how digital is disrupting their industry

Although digitization has significantly changed the B2B outlook, the ultimate goal remains unchanged: to persuade decision makers to purchase your product or service.

Decision makers still don’t have a lot of time to make purchases, and as always want to feel like they have made a smart decision. If you plan on capturing their business, then your firm better offer them a digitally integrated product-acquisition experience that compensates for their busy schedules while still offering them peace of mind.

In order to better understand how B2B firms can accomplish this in the age of digitization, we will explore a rapidly growing trend called Online-to-Offline Commerce, or O2O. This is a concept that firms in China are using to reel in large shares of their respective markets through the integration of online and offline buying experiences.

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A Breakdown of 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 I talk to have no clue what it actually means.

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:

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  1. Buyer turns to the internet to research
  2. Buyer discovers a brand that could fulfill their requirements
  3. Buyer visits offline display center to physically interact with and inspect products
  4. Buyer purchases digitally
  5. Buyer enjoys after sales services through online and offline channels

In China we say, “online or offline, there’s no line at all.”

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, if someone is on your website browsing products, they are a hot sales lead that you can’t afford to lose.  If you are not completely satisfied with your sales numbers, then offering your customer more purchasing confidence by being an early B2B adopter of the O2O trend could be in your best interest. This does not at all mean that you should stop trying to close sales online, but rather integrate an offline component into your omnichannel experience

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How B2Bs can apply an O2O strategy

Providing B2B buyers with an opportunity to physically interact with products is just one important aspect of a great O2O purchasing experience.

Don’t forget, B2B buyers are people, too, which means that after work they are also B2C buyers just like the rest of us. From having used B2C websites and apps to buy the products they use in their daily lives, they have developed habits for researching products that don’t change just because they are buying on behalf of their firm. 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 might be starting their purchasing journey on a mobile device.

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.

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In a perfect world, all additional features of an O2O experience should be integrated and optimized 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 considerations include but are not limited to:

  • Product research
  • Placing an order
  • Making a payment
  • Receiving a specific product variant
  • Reliable on demand customer service
  • Scheduling convenient product delivery
  • After sales services

Product Research and Bar codes

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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. The mobile platform should serve as a shopping guide to help the buyer find the product that meets their needs.

The products should have quick response (QR) or bar codes associated with them, which the customer can scan with their mobile device in order to access all information about the product, compare with similar products, and understand additional features and options.

Payments and Placing Orders

Customers should be able to complete the transaction in whatever way is easiest for them to spend their money. This includes allowing them to skip all potential lines or waits by making in-store mobile purchasing available. However, offering true flexibility to your customers means also allowing them to pay in person, remotely by phone or on the website, and to use whatever payment method they prefer.

Warehouses and Stock

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Having enough of the right products to meet buyer demand is a crucial part of providing a trustworthy O2O experience. Buyers should have the ability to view the available stock and product options currently available at the display center, before they arrive.

Customer Service

Buyers should always have the ability to communicate directly with customer service from their mobile device, especially having the ability to summon them from inside the display center.

Logistics

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.

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After-Sales Services

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 experience with peace of mind is who will win in the age of digitization.

Diane Wang is founder and CEO of DHgate.com, a Beijing-based international wholesale and retail marketplace that connects more than 1 million suppliers with more than 10 million buyers worldwide. In 1999, Wang co-founded and was the first CEO of Joyo.com, a retail marketplace acquired in 2004 by Amazon.com Inc. In 2015 she became China’s representative to the G20 Business Summit, or B20 Summit, and serves as co-chair of the APEC SME Working Group, a B20 task force on developing small and mid-sized enterprises. The B20 Summit, an international economic forum of business executives, is a segment of the G20 Summit of government and central bank officials. Follow her on Twitter @DianeWangDHgate. 

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