Focusing on E-Commerce Innovation

Staples is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and each candle on its cake could represent $1 billion in sales: for the fiscal year ending January 28, 2012, Staples’ sales topped $25 billion. But the real icing on the cake is that e-commerce represents nearly 45% of the total, at $11 billion.
The retailer’s priorities show that it understands the importance of digital commerce to its overall business, “Staples is the second-largest e-commerce company in the world after Amazon,” according to Staples CEO Ronald Sargent.

To improve customer experience and accelerate growth, Staples made many investments in during 2011. An enhanced overall site design has allowed for a proactive chat feature and expanded online print capabilities. New iPhone and Android mobile apps and a new tablet app as well as back-to-school, holiday and Martha Stewart microsites have grown and developed the brands’ online presence.

The investments “drove improving top line trends,” Sargent noted during a recent analyst conference call. “Customer acquisition improved; our print business more than doubled; and we gained share in core supplies, ink, toner, as well as adjacent categories like facilities and break room supplies. Our customer conversion rate also increased as a result of these investments.”
In 2012, Staples will “invest in additional e-commerce improvements, with a goal of delivering the best end-to-end shopping experience for business customers,” he added.

Another sign of digital’s importance to Staples is its E-Commerce Innovation Center in Cambridge, MA, scheduled to open this spring. “The office is going to house teams responsible for designing and implementing new e-commerce solutions for the millions of customers who shop our websites and our stores,” said Sargent. “It will include some folks from IT, product management, usability and creative associates. It’s really trying to take a page out of some of the work that’s being done out in Silicon Valley, but it’s a lot easier to find terrific talent in this area, in a kind of urban downtown environment close to MIT. So it’s really trying to get those people out of here and into an even more creative kind of vibrant environment.”

Opening the Innovation Center also puts Staples in the same company as other retailers that double as solution developers, including Walmart, which launched its @Walmart Labs division in 2011 to focus on the intersection of social media and digital commerce, and Amazon with its Amazon Web Services offerings.

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