Selling Office Supplies Online – 2013 Ecommerce Market Report

The second biggest online retailer in the world, Staples.com, made $24.4 billion last year. Apparently the office supplies online market is growing steadily and attracting unwanted attention from Amazon, while its brick-and-mortar counterpart is struggling with recession. Below we’ll have a look at the market overview, main sales drivers, top retailers and marketing.

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Let’s start with:

Office supplies online – market overview

Staple logo

The US market, as well as the global market for office supplies is heading to a small rebound, mostly due to a small decrease in demand and a  larger decrease in physical store space.

For example, leader Staples.com, is planning on closing 40 underperforming stores this year (out of a total of 1886 stores in the US and Canada), 10 more than previously announced. Challengers Office Max and Office Depot,  some of those late at the ecommerce party, have been blown even harder by reduced sales, as well as online retailers increased competition. The two companies are planning on closing 175 and 150 stores, respectively.

Multichannel experience through interactive kiosks at  Staples.

Multichannel experience through interactive kiosks at Staples.

On the other hand online and multichannel stores are doing great and Staples announced a new type of smaller stores that engage visitors with interactive kiosks and staff aimed at driving more sales to staples.com.

[Read more how retailers connect channels with Omnichannel Retail]

Staples.com is embracing showrooming and engaging customers offline to drive them to buy online. This means that the company is expecting a decrease in offline buying interest. It also means that the age of the behemoth stores is over and now customers will be expecting offline experience that leads them to buy online.

Office Depot also shifted focus towards a multichannel approach. Monica Luechtefeld, who’s been with Office Depot for the past 17 years restructured marketing teams into a single department, to offer a 360 degrees approach, focused on the customer.

 “Instead of looking at you as an online shopper, it’s an attempt to think of you as the customer of Office Depot. The more we look at you horizontally and look at the multiple ways you engage us and the multiple tools that you use to buy − one day a store, one day online, one day a call center − the better we’ll be able to serve you.” said Luechtefeld.

In order to counterbalance Staples’ and Amazon’s competition, Office Depot is also moving into a merger with Office Max, as WSJ reports. The two companies worth $1.3 billion (Office Depot) and $933 million (Office Max) will probably be trading stocks. With almost 60 000 employees and $17.5 billion in combined sales, the two companies will decrease costs and increase market share, if the deal pulls through. Office Depot also tried a merger with Staples in 1997, but the deal was shut down by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Until the merger goes through the US market is shared by Staples (39% market share, also the largest office supplies company in the world), Office Depot (22%), Office Max (13.5%). These companies control 74.5% of the market so they are really setting the trends, and the trends are:

  1. decreasing brick-and-mortar store space
  2. transforming stores into offline experiences aimed at converting customers to online buyers
  3. increase profitability by increasing online sales
  4. focus on customer centric, multichannel marketing

Product segmentation and best sellers in office supplies

Office supplies are some of the most sought products online, up there with computer hardware and consumer electronics. The online market for office supplies totals $22.8 in US alone but not all office supplies are created equal. When purchasing online customers spend their money on:

  1. Office and school supplies – largest portion of total office supplies category – 45% of total sales. Among these office supplies account for 80%.
  2. Office equipment (fax machines, photocopiers, computers, recorders) amount to 24% of total sales
  3. Last but not least – stationary and computer paper account for 23% of total revenue, as stated by IBIS World.

Among the office supplies the ones that stand out are the ink and toner cartridge supplies. For office supplies retailers the fact that these product sales decreased in the past year meant a hard blow to the market cap.

Ink and toner Cartridge online market – opportunities and threats

ink-marketCartridge supplies make up for a large part of office supplies retailers’ margin. In 2011 the ink market alone was worth $14 billion globally so it’s safe to say that the market is here to stay, although growth has suffered due to global recession. New developments in ink manufacturing, online retailing and customer acquisition have changed the landscape but printer ink is still one of the most needed and expensive products on the planet.

As for the vendors, a recent study by Research and Markets shows top vendors as Brother Industries Ltd., Cannon Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Seiko Epson Corp.

The study also shows that among the key growth drivers there is an increase in demand for cheap, high-speed continuous-feed inkjet printers. Recent changes in technology are making possible for buyers to expect reasonably priced color printing.

Increase in demand for ink in labeling and packaging

Increase in demand for ink in labeling and packaging

Although the overall cartridge supplies market is not doing great, thus affecting leaders like Staples, Office Depot and Office Max, a few trends have really picked up:

  1. Labels and Packaging have increased demands for ink: part due to companies expanding into emerging markets but most important due to a ecommerce growth labels and packaging show increase needs for ink and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. A slower growth can be seen in commercial printing.
  2. There is a growing demand for cartridge refills: the global recession helped increase demand for cartridge refills. Information regarding inflated ink cost and news of printers wasting ink all helped pushing the consumer into finding new ways to decrease print costs.
  3. Companies are helping consumers recycle used cartridges in a move that helps companies retain clients, fight the cartridge refill trend and position themselves as “green”. Staples announced it has recycled over 350 million cartridges through its ink and toner cartridge recycling program. Through this program customers receive $2 back in Staples Rewards points and can be used either online and offline.

As such – companies looking into expanding ink and toner sales need to seriously look into:

  1. cartridge buy back and recycling
  2. refill options for customers
  3. loyalty programs that offer incentives such as buyback points or discounts

Markets and marketing for office supplies online

When it comes to customers, the main targets a office supply retailer has are, according to IBIS World:

  • Households make up the largest share of all sales, with 50% of total revenue
  • Businesses amount to 45% of total revenue
  • Government is just a small part of office supplies sales (5%)

When it comes to marketing and customer care, it seems that most office supplies retailers are moving towards a multichannel approach as to leverage the existing stores and maximize profit. Customer care and retention, location based marketing, mobile marketing, direct marketing and social media also seem to be playing a big role when it comes to customer acquisition and retention.

Customer care and retention – loyalty programs

teacher-programA very important part in Staples.com customer care is their Staples Rewards program. Every purchase offers customers 5% back in online/offline purchases as well as free shipping. Customers can redeem rewards when buying from a physical store, online or on their mobile device, thus ensuring a multichannel experience.

As a very large chunk of the market are households, usually families with one or more children, Staples.com now offers a program targeted at parents and teachers. Parents can offer a teacher of their choice a chance to earn as much as $2000 a year, in reward points.

Office Max also offers a loyalty program – MaxPerks – that allows customers to receive 5% off every purchase in rewards,  rewards on cartridge recycling, and other bonus rewards.

Using mobile to connect multichannel customers

staplesmobileOffice supplies retailers use mobile to leverage increased mobile commerce traffic, drive foot traffic in store, helping customers find product information and help them check rewards quickly.

When it comes to mobile the largest player on the market, Staples.com is using both a scaled-down mobile version of the site, as well as native apps on iOS and Android.

The mobile experience is extremely easy to use and focuses on:

  1. hot deals
  2. store locators
  3. reward points
Office Depot Mobile

Office Depot Mobile

Office Depot also offers a mobile version, as well as iOS / Android native app but it features more information regarding products and a clearly visible “ink finder” section.

It is clear that both companies are really working on providing their customers with a great mobile experience and help them find the best deals and the right products quickly.

Staples.com has really set a target at providing the best mobile approach it can and Brian Tilzer, VP of Global Ecommerce declared:

“More and more shoppers are turning to their mobile devices as a way to research and shop whenever and wherever they want.  Staples is thinking ahead and anticipating customers’ needs, providing an offering that not only serves as an m-commerce tool but listens to, and solves, customers’ pain points.”

 

Social media

When it comes to social media there is no really big winner and tactics and strategies are really similar. Some overall trends seem to be more prevalent though:

  • social media engagement – companies such as Staples, Office Depot and Office Max are all channeling their efforts to discussing new products and  deals, occasionally engaging in social responsibility programs such as Office Depot’s “Stop Bullying”
  • deals apps – wether it’s Staples’ “Weekly Ad” or Office Depot’s “Weekly Deals”, the companies are showcasing their best offers wherever they can. That includes Social Media.
  • companies have a cross-channel social media approach, as seen here.

Direct marketing / customer targeting

Traditionally direct marketing has been one of the best marketing and sales channels before ecommerce started getting traction. Now companies need to face a world where the customer expects real-time, personalized offers.

Amazon is closing in with its beta Amazon Supply, an online store targeting office and home supplies. As such, Staples needed to find a way to fight fire with fire and acquired Runa, a California-based software company that specializes in personalized shopping. The company analyzes browsing history, previous purchases to create a virtual profile for the customer and predict what products would he be interested in.

Profiling is clearly the key to direct marketing as customers are looking into personalized offers and expect companies to provide them with it.

Key take aways:

If you’ve read so far, let’s just assume you’ve probably missed a couple of ideas along the way so let’s just wrap this report with the most important take aways:

  1. office supplies brick-and-mortar stores are struggling and will soon be gone
  2. they will be replaced by multichannel retailers that use physical stores to showcase merchandise and sell online
  3. there are three big players in the office supply market in the US: Staples, Office Depot, Office Max. They make up 74.5% of the market
  4. the office supply market has slightly decreased. So did the ink market.
  5. new trends in the ink market: increased consumption in packaging and labeling, cartridge refills are up, companies need to provide recycling options to customers
  6. mobile is a very important factor in office supplies online retail as it bridges the gap in multichannel shopping
  7. Amazon is moving into office supplies

 

 

 

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