Mirja Kaarlela: Offline-2-online-2-offline


Do you buy your fruit at the organic food shop in the next block or order them through the web with your weekly shopping basket? Do you try new shoes at a shoe shop in the shopping centre and then order a suitable pair directly from the brand's own online shop? Maybe the teenager in your family has a pair of Converse designed by him/herself online?

As far as e-business is concerned, we are in a middle of a fundamental change – some even talk about revolution. Our attention remains fixed on the impact of digital and mobile technologies especially on consumption and commerce. Culmination in the structural change and moving from physical commerce to a multichannel experience that utilizes digital and mobile technologies is tremendous.

In many countries, for example in the USA, annihilation of brick and mortar stores and shopping centres provide further openings for online actors. The competitive advantages of online stores when compared with brick and mortar stores are not based solely on costs and pricing; also the wide range and personal appeal of product selection and all-round personalized service attract more and more consumers.

Bonobos bases their trust on a total experience to be provided for their customer and managed by customer service Ninjas and Guideshops. Warby Parker was created by bypassing traditional distribution chains and allowing the customers to participate and making them commit themselves through the web and by "doing good". In the creation of a new concept with promising business prospects, both emphasize the importance of customer experience and interesting stories dealing with human life.

Ensuring customers' commitment is, indeed, one of the basic preconditions for online shopkeepers. Consumers transacting via various terminal equipment must be enticed to change their browsing and scanning to buying behaviour. In brick and mortar establishments and shopping centres, buying and meeting events must be converted into experiences that will carry the brand forward also virtually. Listening and understanding customers is vital, especially when aiming to global markets.

Also competition differs from traditional setups. There are an amazing number of competitors in the online world, and a neighbour's silly hobby can, within a single week, give rise to a virally spreading market phenomenon. Omnipresent technology enables fast and surprising entries to and exits from a field and fast iterations of different earning models. It might be a good idea to sacrifice some time for identifying the competition and competitors. Googling through the global statistics of Internet commerce confirms that it is not worthwhile to select Amazon or Alibaba among the very first to fight against. Perhaps the most appropriate question for us to ask would be with whom and how the Finns involved should cooperate.

Online is here to stay, and those most advanced in the matter are already designing the O2O (online to offline) entity. Thus Alibaba, among others, has told about its plans to provide brick and mortar store consumers with the comfort and benefits made possible by online experience. Future means omnipresence, combination of the digital with "traditional" channels in a new way and management in the world of multiform values.

Now it's not the time to perfect web pages and code still another property but to build memorable and distinctive total solutions and bravely look for partners. Tekes' Smart Cities programme looks for companies interested in international growth to deal with the challenges of e-business.

Mirja Kaarlela
The author is the Head of Strategic Programmes at Tekes

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