Staples replaced its iconic tagline, ‘That Was Easy’, with ‘Make More Happen’ as recently as 2013. The change in the slogan, however, was just a reflection of one of The United States’ largest retailers wanting to shift customer focus. Yes, as a stationery brand, they would continue to be easy. But ‘Make More Happen’ showcases much more than that – for starters, we have their large inventory and expanding online presence to look into.
As of 2015, Staples had just over 1900 stores spread across the globe, with maximum stores in The United States, Canada, and The United Kingdom. In Europe, Staples operates through its contract business under the trade name Staples Advantage. And just in Europe alone, staples has an online store presence in 14 countries. In order to cater specifically to business customers, they have a Corporate service that caters to any business with ten employees or more.
We all know how quickly startups mushroom and shut shop all over the place. How then did a company that started three decades ago and is selling in a niche market end up becoming one of the country’s top five retailers? Reinvention is key to a thriving business. Perhaps, no one understood this better than Staples did. Of special significance is their omnichannel retail strategy. At a time when companies young and old are unsure of how to design and implement an omnichannel approach, Staples has done it and how! Let’s take a look at a few salient aspects of the strategy that worked for them and why.
Just Do It!
We have borrowed Nike’s famous tagline here. Come to think of it, Staples never limited itself to discussions alone. In the 1990s, when an online presence was optional for nearly every business, Staples launched their first website in 1998. They also came out with their online catalog in 2007. When a new avenue to reach customers makes its presence felt, companies may spend quite some time discussing it, debating the pros and cons, etc. To an external observer, it would seem that if there was anything at all, old or new, that could keep customers engaged, Staples would adopt that method.
After all, isn’t customer engagement the cornerstone philosophy of omnichannel retailing? Being present on multiple channels is not a privilege. It is those many more ways to catch the attention of a potential customer.
In their 2015 annual report, Staples talks about bringing aboard 300 category specialists to understand the evolving needs of customers. They go much beyond office supplies now, even having a category for break room supplies. Diversification is possible and essential, even in a niche vertical. Once the product offering expands sufficiently, selling on multiple channels makes that much more sense – people may be looking for different products on different channels and Staples has it all.
A Truly Integrated Experience
One source of immense frustration for customers is being treated as separated entities across channels. Say you are a customer looking to buy a gadget. You go to a certain online store, where you look at a few home theater options. (Remember, at some point, you’re filling out a form to get a 10% discount or some such thing). Then it strikes you that such a significant decision cannot be made without looking at the product. So, you visit the same retailer’s outlet.
However, human nature entices you to also look at a few television sets while you’re there. Meanwhile, a store representative is driven to believe that you’re actually there for the TV. While you’re at home thinking, you see an email pop-in from said retailer, asking you to take a second look at their home theater systems. A day later, you get a call from the same retailer, asking if you’ve made up your mind about a TV yet.
Such an assumption that the same customer is actually two different entities makes them feel awkward. Customers look for continuity of experience across channels. What they’re expecting the retailer to ask is whether they’d like to look at BOTH a home theater and a TV. Broadly, they’re looking to be recognized as the same person. When they are dealing with just one business, they want to have the same experience across channels.
Staples has managed to integrate the experience across channels simply by ignoring them completely! When you buy from them, it makes no difference whether you are on the mobile site or the desktop version, and the same applies to all channels. Their aim is to give you, the customer, a unified experience across channels. No one channel is easier or tougher to order from than others.
‘Seamless’ Is The Word For It
We often find ourselves talking about seamless integration across channels. But what does that mean? Well, Staples has the answer for you!
In a Staples outlet, you will have both Points Of Sale and the option of online checkout. Seems redundant? Well, what if something you were looking for isn’t available in store but you can order it online? Staples doesn’t want to lose customers, at all. So instead of letting a customer walk out and consider shopping elsewhere, their online checkout facility gets them to place an order and then walk out.
(Photo: Business Wire)
The other feature, that of picking up products from earlier orders, is hugely popular. A pack of diapers or a piece of furniture is easier to remember. But how do you remember the exact color code for your ink? By picking this information up from previous orders, customers have that much more incentive to shop at that very moment. No more looking up the information and ‘ordering sometime later’.
Staples truly cares about what customers want. Their targeted surveys try and understand consumer behavior across channels. And they take these survey results very seriously too. They even thoroughly integrate marketing campaigns across channels.
Omnichannel Retail Is All About The Customer
Selling on multiple channels such as retail outlets, marketplaces, and online stores is not a fancy new way of selling. The reason the approach is gaining popularity is because it clicks with customers. Those who trust a marketplace such as eBay or Amazon more than an independent e-store will pick your product from that channel. Those who want to experience the product first will come to your store.
Staples is pretty old fashioned about customer loyalty, and with good reason too! Their gift cards and point systems are well-recognized and used, so these features are now available when you shop on any channel. They only send information that is absolutely relevant to the customers. In the age of information overload, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of being relevant.
Customer perception is equally important. As opposed to collecting feedback from long forms and analyzing it, Staples went for continuous feedback. You can fill a few details right after the purchase and do the rest of the feedback when you receive an email. They also have Staples Rush for same day deliveries and in-store pickup within two hours of ordering, because, in most workplaces, stationery cannot wait.
The People Who Made It Happen
Beginning in early 2014 and for a period of over a year, Gillian Hawkes, now Vice President at Divert, helped develop and implement the omnichannel retail strategy at Staples. Under her direction, the omnichannel strategy yielded $250 million in revenues, which have more than doubled since.
Prakash Muppirala, VP global eCommerce at Staples, also talks about the importance of having development catch up with such offerings. Staples doesn’t optimize the same site for all devices. They have tried to create a custom, personalized experience across devices and channels.
With any new strategy, training of store staff, customer service reps and people who essentially make up the everyday face of the company is crucial. With something as pathbreaking as omnichannel retail, the importance of training cannot be emphasized enough.
These are just some of the many attributes that make them stand out in consumer minds. They are trustworthy, they are dependable and they are easy to work with. Is it any surprise then that a business built on trust, reliability, and ease of business is at the forefront of every advancement in the retail industry. No one does omnichannel retail quite like Staples!
Armed with a degree and a pen, loves to tell stories. When not telling stories, she also works. Hard to decide which one she likes more.