Staples redesigns its stores for the Internet age

The office supplies retail chain announced today the launch of two new “omnichannel stores.”

Zak Stambor

Office supplies retailer Staples Inc. today announced the launch of its first two “omnichannel stores” that aim to bridge the divide between its various retail channels.

The stores feature several large kiosks. Some of the kiosks let consumers buy from the retailer’s site optimized for tablet computers, while others enable shoppers to get specific information, such as where to find ink and toner. While most Staples locations feature a web-connected kiosk, the omnichannel stores feature several scattered throughout the store, says a spokesman for Staples, No. 2 in the 2013 Top 500 Guide.

The retailer is also arming employees with tablets that enable them to give shoppers additional product information and check store inventory levels, the spokesman says. 

The omnichannel stores, located in Norwood, MA, and Dover, DE, are roughly 12,000 square feet, about half the size of the retailer’s largest stores. Staples’ typical stores range from 18,000 to 24,000 square feet and carry between 7,000 to 8,000 SKUs, the spokesman says. The omnichannel stores have 6,000 to 7,000 of the retailer’s best-performing SKUs, such as office chairs, excluding large items that sell better online, like desks, he says.

Staples is reacting to a significant shift to buying office supplies online. In 2012, Staples sold $10.3 billion online, making it No. 2 in the Internet Retailer 2013 Top 500 Guide. Those web sales represented 42.2% of Staples total 2012 sales of $24.4 billion. Its main competitors also are top online retailers, as Office Depot Inc. ranks No. 7 in the Top 500 and OfficeMax Inc. No. 11.

Staples new omnichannel stores also have a designated area with storage lockers for shoppers to pick up orders placed online.

"We listened to our customers and provided the products, services and features they need to succeed," said Demos Parneros, president, North America stores and online. "Our stores make efficient use of space while offering more products and services than ever through our mobile and online features.”

Staples plans to eventually convert 45 of its 24,000-square-foot stores into omnichannel stores via a combination of renegotiating its leases and relocating to smaller locations, the spokesman says. Staples has 1,536 stores in the United States.

While the transition to Internet-connected stores represent Staples’ U.S. growth strategy, the retailer last week launched an effort to drive growth in China by selling on Tmall, an online marketplace owned by Alibaba Group Holdings Inc. Alibaba Group is No. 1 in the Asia 500 and dominates e-commerce in China.

While Staples already had a Chinese presence—it entered the market in 2004 and has 31 physical stores in the country—it, like many other office supplies retailers, has yet to generate strong sales online. Only one office supplies retailer, Vistaprint USA Inc., is listed in the Asia 500, which ranks the largest online retailers in Asia and Australia.

“We are partnering with Tmall because of the importance we place in the consumer market,” says Jackie Robb, Staples president in China.

Staples’ Tmall storefront currently features 2,300 SKUs and the retailer says it plans to add more.



2013 Asia 500, 2013 Top 500 Guide, Alibaba Group, China, Demos Parneros, e-commerce, in-store systems, Jackie Robb, omnichannel retail, omnichannel technology, Staples Inc., Tmall