I noticed “O2O” has become such buzz word, like the next big thing after “Mobile”, especially in China. Almost everyone talks about it, from internet pundits to VCs. So what is O2O exactly? Sometimes I feel we are often talking about sexy concept without fully understanding.

It is said O2O should stand for “Online to Offline”, but isn’t B2C e-commerce opening its offline showcase room also Online to Offline? The very first question I asked myself. Well, not quite. The definition is O2O tries to attract and find consumers online and bring them into physical stores.

However if we have B2C e-commerce, why should we drive consumers to offline store? My second question for myself. Um…not everything could be bought online, packed in the box and delivered to my home…Sometimes I go to see movies, repair my car in dealer shop, do my hair in a salon, eat a fancy meal in a French restaurant, so service related merchants might need to use such digital mechanism to trigger more consumers to visit their offline stores.

No wonder it is said Groupon is the original Muse of O2O concept. No wonder we have seen the spawn of so claimed O2O startups, for instance Dingding(China’s coupon Apps). They all seem to act like “middle-men” to profit from asymmetrical information between service merchants and consumers.

Okay, mystery solved. Looks like I am pretty stupid and slow to figure it out while other people already knew. But we have middle men since human history started commercial/trading activities, why this “O2O” sound like so “innovative”? Internet has drastically changed our way of life and consumption; therefore the “middle men” have to be at least on the internet or mobile, and come up nice ways to link merchants and consumers.

Some said because consumers have to either pre-order or purchase online or via NFC mobile payment, therefore one true beauty of O2O is collecting and tracking ample consumer data. After all we are now embracing “Big Data” age (again another big concept).

So O2O seemed like a social, local and serviced related “middle men”, with abundant data in the pocket.

But recently I saw the news about brand Haier, offered online cash coupons for consumers on Etao (price comparison and search portal powered by Taobao), which can be redeemed across two channels, either on Haier’s online flagship store on Tmall or its assigned offline stores. Interestingly the headline of the story was “new experiment of O2O for Haier”. Does it mean “Online to Offline” or “Online to Online” or both? Or “O2O” concept here is rather misused? Or a more ambiguous argument might be “O2O” is still constantly evolving and transforming?

Anyhow I still do not see my exciting “Oh to Oh” moments for “O2O” concept, hence due to my low intelligence I decided to lay aside this topic for the time being.

By Cécilia Wu
English & Chinese Editorial Manager