Staples Pioneers Omnichannel B2B Retailing

While shoppers have a bevy of purchase options available to them in various sales channels, oftentimes B2B buyers options are limited and many times outdated.
Staples Advantage is leading the charge by giving B2B buyers the same options as a consumer purchaser, for example:
  • The ability to order product online for pickup in a store location within two hours.
  • Mobile app featuring a scanning option, enabling customers to scan the barcode of an item in their stock room and immediately add any quantity to their online cart — for delivery or in-store pick up.
  • Order print jobs online for pickup at their closest store.
  • Visual search, allowing customers to shop by selecting product images and sifting through visually similar products.
Gillian Hawkes, director, e-commerce product management, Staples Advantage, recently granted RIS News an exclusive interview and discussed the retailer's latest advancement. Below are the highlights of that conversation:
RIS: How does the B2B experience differ from the B2C experience?
Hawkes: While business buyers and consumers are inherently different in their purchasing patterns, the truth is that they have similar expectations when it comes to the online shopping experience. Business buyers expect the same ease of shopping and personalized experiences as they expect as consumers.
Additionally, business decision makers and buyers are increasingly mobile, and they desire the flexibility to buy products and services on mobile devices.
Staples Advantage, the business to business division of Staples, is one of the few e-commerce websites purpose-built for business users. Staples Advantage is committed to making the shopping experience easy for customers — whether it’s viewing recently purchased items, adding multiple products to the shopping cart, placing a quick order or ensuring a stress-free checkout process — via in-store, website or mobile channels. Staples Advantage treats its customers’ organizations as individual customers, personalizing every experience.
RIS: Order online pickup in store is a major building block of the B2C omnichannel experience. What is different about the B2B model?
Hawkes: We are equally committed to all our customers and want to offer the same benefits, whether they are individual shoppers or businesses of any size. By extending the omnichannel experience to our business customers, we’ve made it easy for them to leverage our stores for speedier delivery. Select customers are able to order online or through our mobile app and pick up at any store location within two hours. This enables them to approve orders on the go and purchase items at their contracted rate. Our print to store offering that was rolled out last year enables employees who are traveling and need to print documents or brochures for a presentation or a tradeshow to place orders online and pick them up at the nearest location.
RIS: How are these new initiatives different from what Staples has been offering its B2B customers for years? What are the major benefits?
Hawkes: As customers’ needs and buying behavior are changing, we are committed to providing services that are more suited to their requirements. We recently revamped to provide a more personalized experience that is tailored to our customers’ organizational needs. We also created a more simplified check-out process.  
Features such as the Staples Advantage dashboard display customers’ "need-to-know" information, including recent orders, order status, shopping lists and products that may need to be reordered. Customers also have access to orders that are pending approval, which can be approved in one click. Browsing is made easier, with the ability to sift through consolidated categories and search by industry. The website even has a revamped deals section that highlights the best savings opportunities for organizations.
Additionally, Staples Advantage now offers omnichannel capabilities to select business customers. The convenience of being able to shop how they want — online, in-store and via mobile at their negotiated contract price — helps them eliminate rogue spend and maximize the program value. is also the first major e-commerce website to offer the functionality of visual search, which allows customers to shop by selecting product images and sifting through visually similar products so they can easily target the color, shape and texture they’re looking for. By selecting product images to initiate a search, customers can find visually similar products to those desired, and quickly narrow search results to those that are similar in terms of color, shape and texture. It’s hard to adequately describe some products through text alone, but visual search fills the void. This is especially beneficial for more visual categories like interiors and furniture.
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