Until recently, most businesses opted to keep their online and offline marketing efforts separate. To marketers, each channel occupied a different lane on the road, catering to its own unique audience. But this idea couldn’t be further from reality.

Consumers don’t occupy just one lane.

In other words, today’s consumers can’t be classified solely as e-commerce or in-store shoppers. In fact, most shoppers are influenced by both online and offline factors before they make a final purchasing decision.

What does that mean for marketers? It means you’ll need to integrate your online and offline channels into one seamless pipeline and provide multiple digital touchpoints that will entice consumers to visit your physical store.

This strategy is known as online to offline (O2O) marketing.

When done right, it will add value to your consumers’ shopping experience. For example, they’ll appreciate being able to order online and pick up in-store or return online purchases in person. For today’s shoppers, it’s all about convenience.

Still on the fence? Here are a few more reasons you should try O2O commerce in 2019.


1. Worldwide retail sales are still mostly offline

With the rapid growth of the online market, it’s hard to miss all the buzz surrounding e-commerce brands lately, specifically around how e-commerce could potentially overtake physical stores in the future.

For traditional brick-and-mortar stores and shopping malls, the increase in e-commerce sales has created much uncertainty about whether they can compete with brands that offer consumers the ease and comfort of shopping from their own homes. However, while e-commerce sales are expected to have surpassed 2.8 trillion by the end of 2018, they will still only represent 11.9% of all retail sales worldwide.


2. Consumers still prefer to purchase at physical stores

According to Shopify, “82.5% of all retail sales will still happen in stores as late as 2021.”

While consumers often buy products like clothing and small electronics online, they exhibit a certain reluctance to do so when buying from certain “e-commerce resistant” industries—such as off-price retailers (TJ Maxx, Ross, etc.), dollar stores, restaurants, car dealerships, furniture stores, and grocery stores—which offer shopping experiences that online stores haven’t yet replicated.

Recent data shows that 62% of consumers prefer to feel, touch, and try out products before they purchase them. Business at grocery stores, in particular, is holding steady because a whopping 93% of consumers still prefer to inspect their own produce.

Furthermore, 49% of shoppers want the option to take items home immediately—something that online stores have tried to replicate with same-day delivery service. Unfortunately, the extra cost associated with expedited delivery often serves to discourage or frustrate shoppers.

Lastly, if a product is defective, consumers want to be able to conveniently return it to the store rather than go through the hassle of shipping it back—regardless of whether they purchased it online or offline.


3. Pre-purchase research is done primarily online

Consumers have more tools than ever at their disposal to discover and research a product or service they’re interested in. More than 65% of shoppers, in fact, conduct research online by looking at customer-generated reviews and ratings, website content, videos, and photos before they decide to purchase.

That means brands need to create digital marketing strategies that include quality email, web, and social media content as well as SEO that captures both web and local shoppers. Optimizing for local search on mobile is especially important for physical stores, considering 50% of consumers that use their smartphone to look up a store location will head to that store within one day.

These individual components—email, social, SEO, etc.—are known as digital touchpoints. They give consumers multiple opportunities to connect and interact with a brand and together form a robust strategy that leaves no stone unturned. Once a touchpoint has triggered an interaction, it is up to you to create a smooth transition from the online to the offline space.


4. Customers want a personalized shopping experience

From tailored suggestions to customized promotions, a growing number of customers expect a personalized shopping experience, even within physical stores.

Brands can accomplish this by arming sales representatives with the ability to pull a customer’s online profile, purchase history, and interests as they assist them in-store. Nothing delights a consumer more than a representative that recognizes their preferences and can provide a quick solution to a problem.

Another way to create a personalized shopping experience is by utilizing package insert advertising. Package insert advertising is a form of partnership marketing. Brand A offers up extra space in their outgoing e-commerce shipments and Brand B purchases it in order to place an advertisement inside. Brand A gets to please their customers with great offers from another brand, and Brand B gets exposure to a new audience.

While package insert ads are often used to promote online deals, they can be customized to bring in traffic to physical stores too. For example, they’re the perfect way to announce timely in-store-only deals or special events.

Online to offline commerce: the future of retail

While online and offline were once treated as completely separate channels, most marketers now realize the importance of an integrated online/offline marketing strategy.

It’s smart to connect with customers online first—the pivotal place where they conduct their pre-purchase research—before presenting them with an offer that entices them to complete their purchase in store. From there, don’t drop the ball! Give the customers you’ve wooed with your O2O strategy a personalized in-store experience and they’ll be yours for good.