Online-to-offline (O2O) commerce is a business strategy that draws potential customers from online channels to make purchases in physical stores. Just about every brand we see in Kenya is pursuing an O2O strategy. Whether online-to-offline or offline-to-online, the logic is the same. Brands want to make sure their sales channels reinforce each other, provide for a better customer experience and respect the trend of consumers migrating to e-commerce without undermining a profitable store-based business.
The emphasis international brands place on Kenyan e-commerce space is not a surprise, given the size of the market and the rapid rates of growth. But first, what are the o2o guidelines to drive sales and increase customer engagement and retention? There are four rules to keep in mind:
- Love all your channels
The moment a customer encounters your brand is the moment he or she starts to determine its value. Therefore the first step in using O2O effectively is to maximize performance within each channel. A low-growth channel might have high absolute numbers. A transaction through one channel might be the result of unknown interactions through another channel. So it is essential to bring a strong brand image and well-trained customer service team to each channel. Love your channels, because those channels allow your customer to love your brand.
- Be consistent — Do no harm
Maintain consistency in communications, pricing, and customer service across channels. The online and offline experience has to offer the same brand image and transaction possibilities. Same identity, message, and pricing. Consistency in pricing will avoid internal and external conflicts, as your store managers and e-commerce teams won’t be competing against each other and customers won’t feel like they missed out by not shopping on a specific channel.
Similarly, train customer service teams on each aspect of the brand using standardized material. In addition, give your online merchandising and graphic design the same look and feel of your physical store.
- The easy cross-sell: cross-promotion
It is not enough merely to be consistent. You must also use your channels to cross-sell. Make sure that each channel promotes and validates the other. All printed and in-store material should act as a gateway to the brand’s digital realm (consider QR code or hashtag). All online purchases should insert material with store locations with the shipments. The online store should offer a locator map for offline stores. Check your receipt the next time you shop. If a URL or QR code is printed at the bottom, that brand understands cross-promotion.
- The trend is your friend
Let’s not pretend that O2O is a static situation and we are discussing coordination among equal channels. Indeed, the strongest trend in retail today is the move away from stores to e-commerce. We see this in every market in the world and across every demographic. Some areas (like China) are moving faster than others, but everybody is moving. No surprise here. Consumers have better selection and better discovery mechanisms. On-line merchants have lower costs and can more easily experiment. But how do you play into this trend?
The most important lesson here for merchants and brand owners is that you will be better off if you run your e-commerce program directly. Do not lay this off on your distributor. Your net will improve. You will retain control of your brand. And you will drive offline improvement through online improvement. Bring in outside expertise as needed. But the smarter brands will seek to run their Kenyan e-commerce operations aggressively, purposefully and directly.