January 26, 2012, 10:57 AM

Staples’ e-commerce push

The retailer is opening an E-Commerce Innovation Center to build online shopping tools.

Lead Photo

Staples Inc., the office supplies chain that is No. 2 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, today said that it will build what it calls an E-Commerce Innovation Center in Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA—an area that’s home to several ventures related to e-commerce, such as content delivery network operator Akamai Technologies Inc. and site search provider Endeca Technologies Inc., which last year was bought by Oracle Corp.

Staples says the center will open by May. Working there will be teams focused on designing and deploying e-commerce tools and features to serve Staples’ customers. The announcement of the center comes only months after the retail chain said it would triple the size of its e-commerce and information technology staffs within the next two years.

“Cambridge is a hub of innovation, with both world-class universities and technology companies,” says Brian Tilzer, vice president, e-commerce and business development, Staples.com. “Staples new E-Commerce Innovation Center will become the home to some of the world’s best e-commerce talent with the goal of rapidly bringing breakthrough new ideas to market in emerging online technologies like mobile commerce and social media.”

A Staples spokesman says the center will operate from an existing building. "Not only will work focus on our mobile commerce and social media offerings, but also in improving the overall customer experience on Staples.com through personalization and optimization, and features like proactive chat," he says.

Staples did not give more details about the tasks the chain will assign to the center, nor how many employees will work there. "While we don’t publicly disclose staffing numbers, we can tell you that we’ll be ramping up staffing as the center opens," the spokesman says. "To that point, all of the e-commerce jobs for Cambridge currently listed on our careers page are indeed for this innovation center."

A look today at the Staples’ help wanted page showed a handful of recent e-commerce-related job postings for Cambridge, including an I.T. consultant and manager, and a principal applications analyst, whose duties include product catalog transfer to Staples.com.

In announcing the May opening of the center, Staples appears to be following the example of Wal-Mart, No. 6 in the Top 500 Guide. That retail chain last year introduced @WalMartLabs, a research lab based in Silicon Valley that works on creating social network and mobile technology that could tie together online shoppers and the chain’s stores.  That said, Wal-Mart built that lab around the acquisition last year of Kosmix, a company that mines data from social networks and whose 70 employees went to work for the lab. Wal-Mart has also made a number of smaller acquisitions and folded them into @WalMartLabs, including social commerce technology provider OneRiot. Staples has made no similar announcements tied to the new center.

Tilzer will serve as mobile workshop keynote speaker at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 in Chicago in June in a session entitled “Why Staples is Investing Big in Mobile Commerce.” Chris Bolte, vice president, demand generation for @WalmartLabs, is a featured speaker and will speak in a session entitled “How to Find Fresh Tech Ideas is Your Own Organization.” Lelah Manz, Akamai’s chief strategist for commerce, will speak in a session entitled “My Web Site is Down! Why the Internet Doesn’t Always Work and What this Means for Your Business.

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