Staples trial new in store digital experience

Office supply chain Staples recently announced the launch of its omnichannel prototype stores that feature endless-aisle kiosks and digital signage. The in-store solution allows customers to replicate the online shopping experience of one of the country’s largest Internet retailers within the company’s brick-and-mortar locations.

A Staples in Norwood, just 20 miles away from its original Brighton store, is the company’s first location to test the new retail plan.

Customers walk in and are greeted by “The Business Lounge,” with a conference table charging station surrounded by copy and fax machines, printers, computer workstations, and a machine that serves hot Starbucks coffee. A tablet wirelessly connects to a 55-inch screen where customers can browse and buy products online. Six additional kiosks are placed throughout the store.

Sales associates carry tablets to check inventory and help customers buy online. And new technology automatically triggers a call for a sales associate over the store’s intercom system if a customer stands in the ink section for more than a minute and a half.

Furniture, a top online seller, is eliminated from the store with the exception of chairs, which Staples’ research found that most people prefer to test in-store before they buy.

“What sets us apart from the Internet retailers is you can come in and hold and touch the product, there’s an interplay of the retail network and online,” said Demos Parneros, the president of Staples North American stores and online.

Back in Cambridge, Vemana and his team at the Velocity Lab are focused on smartphone technology that will be tested in Norwood before it is rolled out to other Staples stores. Soon customers there may be able to pay by tapping their cellphones against a credit card machine.

“If you fast forward two years from now, the penetration of smartphones will be even greater,” said Faisal Masud, a former Groupon executive hired by Staples in May as vice president of global e-commerce. “It’s very clear to us that mobile is the future.”

Staples became an early online sales leader in the office supply business because many of its customers were large companies already ordering over the phone or through catalogues rather than walking into stores. Those companies were comfortable purchasing many commodity items, such as paper, over the Internet.

“Staples is the largest office supply retailer in the world,” said Liang Feng, an equity analyst with Morningstar Inc. “If you think about the type of products office supplies are, it’s very much an e-commerce product. Once customers know what they want, they don’t necessarily need to go in store and feel the ink and paper.”

Overall, Staples plans to reduce retail space by about 15 percent by 2015 and triple the size of its e-commerce and information technology staff this year. About 30 underperforming stores will close this year.

Leave a Reply