The online-to-offline (O2O) opportunity

E-commerce Insights blog

Welcome to the ninth post of our “E-Commerce Insights” blog series. Today, Sitecore MVP Malcolm Wild, CTO for POSSIBLE APAC, a Sitecore Solution Partner, shares his vision to change physical retail with an e-commerce platform.


More than 90% of sales in retail are still transacted offline. Yet most retailers struggle to understand what happens in their stores. In addition, worldwide retail e-commerce sales are predicted to grow 6%2 in 2018 and B2C e-commerce sales are projected to pass the $2.3 trillion mark globally in 20183 —the e-commerce landscape is more competitive than ever. Meanwhile consumers’ expectations of a commerce experience grow more demanding.

That sounds like fantastic news. But the real prize is bringing the same visibility and optimization to physical retail that you can now achieve online using tools like an e-commerce platform.

Rationale for an e-commerce platform: with clicks, we forget bricks

Many retailers have only partial visibility as to what happens in their stores. They are limited to door swings and till rings. In many cases, the physical customer is anonymous, which creates distance between buyer and seller. During these days of digital channel e-commerce platforms, that gap is a big opportunity. And if you’re looking for a competitive advantage a scalable, environmentally agnostic e-commerce platform is a great investment.

The physical retail experience has barely changed in decades. Consider a typical shopping experience. You enter a high-end retailer to buy a new outfit. A salesperson greets you with a helpful series of open questions. A subtle choreography follows, ideally ending with the customer buying new products and a happy salesperson mentally calculating her commission.

The store records the transaction—the items bought, product categories, date and time, salesperson—but often very little, if anything, about the individual customer, such as whether they shop online and who they are.

It’s not a very digital experience, is it? How do you know whether a customer is a loyal VIP or someone seeking promotional offers? Whether a customer is anonymous or interacting repeatedly, they leave a digital and physical signature. For example, they may use beacons that identify their mobile device, actively share digital information from email, or download your app in exchange for a discount voucher. Yet salespeople often have limited data to help cross-sell or upsell.

You need to put data at the heart of the physical retail experience to turn your customers from anonymous visitors into members of a buying segment with clear interests. All of which you can track, analyze, and market toward to continually improve their future commerce experience.

Five core components of a physical O2O commerce platform

A modern commerce platform integrates several critical components that POSSIBLE leverages to join the physical and digital retail experiences into a continuous O2O commerce platform with:

  1. Sensors feeding data from the physical environment such as WiFi or Bluetooth beacons
  2. A promotion engine to run offers on individual products and product categories
  3. Digital support to put customer and sales data in the hands of the sales staff, including tablet, signage, POS, and CRM data
  4. A customer profile manager to gather, track, and act on customers’ activities and segmentation
  5. Triggers with the ability to change the experience in real time using information gathered to improve the personalized shopping experience

These capabilities represent the backbone of a cohesive, contextually intelligent physical commerce platform. That allows you to bring everything together with the right personalized shopping experience to empower your sales teams and delight your customers. Without these capabilities, your ability to improve your customer experience is severely limited.

A powerful framework can extend the commerce reach beyond the traditional web store deep into physical retail POS systems, warehouse management, apps, beacon technologies, and across your website and marketplace outlets. For example, delivery options are now very customer focused, with same-day delivery and free returns—all with online tracking and timeslots. Why not extend this to stores? Sell stock from online warehouses and leverage existing e-commerce delivery supply chains to give a best mix of functionality. Then you compete on your own terms to create relationships uniquely associated with your brand—and your brand only. That’s big!

Malcolm Wild is a Sitecore MVP and CTO of POSSIBLE APAC, a Sitecore Solution Partner. Follow Malcolm on LinkedIn.