Staples Reaches For The Mobile 'Easy' Button

"Print for me? 60 copies."

I get print orders from my college professor wife via email. We're still running print jobs by in-box carrier pigeon around here despite the fact that we are drowning in high tech. With all of the cross-platform media gadgetry I write about, we have a house that can rival an MIT Media Lab in connectedness. Tablets control DVRs, Pandora spews through every imaginable device throughout the house, incoming phone calls pop up on my TV. And yet, Mr. and Mrs. Jetson can't figure out how to network her laptop to my laser printer. 

"OK," I write back (we're only about 30 feet away from each other). "No, wait. This is an 8 page exam. 60 copies? WTF?"

We suck down printer toner like iced tea around here. And the lame tech jackasses who make cartridges in countless models force all of us to stare at office store shelves with the cocked head of clueless puppies when we have to figure out which model goes to my printer.

I am dragging you through my distress, to make a mobile point. Staples understands my pain. In the recently relaunched version of its mobile Web site, I am pretty much a click away from a toner finder that knows most people won't remember their own printer model. I get it about half right when I put a model in the search box and it is smart enough to deliver the goods.



This is a little thing, but important in mobile. They know what most of us need when we come to their mobile site -- probably toner. But in this iteration of the company emphasizes the multiple touch points of Web, mobile and in-store and keeps them in synch. Items I put in my cart from any of these entryways (including the in-store kiosks) show up everywhere. The mobile site is designed to be used in store, to check inventory and to drill deep into user reviews and product specs. Brian Tilzer, VP of E-Commerce and Business Development at Staples, says,  "We have in this iteration spent considerable time and investment in customer research to understand the profile of how people are using it." They did a quantitative study as well as anthropological observational research -- just scoping out how people want to use the mobile dimension in store.  

While Staples has apps across the platforms also serving customers, the metrics were showing them that getting the m-dot strategy right was critical to the overall marketing strategy for the brand because this was the platform on which the customer was engaging with Staples' other materials. "A huge number of our emails are opened on mobile," Tilzer says. "A large number of searches are coming through mobile. It shocked us."

It is not surprising, then, that moving through the toner-choosing experience on the Staples mobile site quickly renders a screen-filling image of the toner and an opportunity to buy it on the spot. "Our formula is, picture, add to cart," says Tilzer. "That has been a proven method of maximizing sales."  

But what was surprising to Tilzer was the depth of information customers wanted on their phones in store. "This is not just the basics," he found. We are way beyond store locaters and outlet phone numbers now. Mobile users are augmenting their in-store experience with the device and want to dig into user reviews and ratings and specs. Tying the mobile Web in to local store availability is not just for me in my home office -- but me in the Staples aisle not having to ask the salesperson how many of these they have in stock.

And when you do consult a Staples associate, Tilzer assures me, he or she will know what to do. In more than a few in-store situations I have shown a floorwalker my smartphone with their own store's mobile app or web site and they have been flummoxed and seem to feel almost pre-empted. "We educated our associates on the device so they wouldn't be skeptical but embrace it. We make sure they are aware of it and understand when customers are using it and how to interact with them in meaningful ways." Also completing the in-store mobile experience is the presence of WiFi, so customers can actually get the signal they need to make good and fast use of the tools Staples is offering.  

The mobile Web site works strategically for Staples on a number of levels, Tilzer says. Because so much of the brand's existing digital materials and marketing efforts are being accessed on smartphones, a seamless path to the brand on mobile was critical. Also important to the Staples image was being seen by customers on the cutting edge of technology. "It is part of being that kind of technology provider - an authority -- [so] we are beholden to use the latest technology to help customers select us. At a strategic level for our brand, this is imperative," Tilzer says. 

But Tilzer also recognizes that his customers can be hijacked by other mobile services in his own store. "We used to be able to control the product message and the price message, but now there are so many other ways of accessing it," he says. What major brand retailers do not want is a race to the bottom where choices at retail all boil down to a single consideration. "If it just becomes a price game someday, that is not attractive to anyone in our business."

The counterpoint is service and ease. For Staples, the best proactive defense against me shopping elsewhere is to make as clear and clean a path to purchase as possible. True to the company's "That Was Easy" messaging, there is a word that keeps popping up when Tilzer describes the ethic informing the new site: "We tried to make it easier to buy."


Well, easier once you get to the store. For me, I am still trying to vault the heated exchanges with my Professor Wife and her ream of exam printouts.  

"WTF?" she shoots back. "Hey, watch your acronyms, buddy! OIWCUTAHYUTH" 


"While you are figuring it out, print out 60 copies."

2 comments about "Staples Reaches For The Mobile 'Easy' Button".
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  1. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, June 23, 2011 at 6:29 p.m.

    Awesome example of mobile in the store.

    People often compare the mobile experience to TV. As someone who spent a fair amount of time with that, I'd argue the mobile experience is more like a TV remote control -- if you're bored, displeased, or think someone somewhere else has got something better, then zap! goes the remote control.

    It's all about collapsing the process to deliver immediate gratification.

  2. Danielle Gotkis from Trilibis Mobile, June 23, 2011 at 7:39 p.m.

    Looks like Staples really took the time to analyze and understand the various mobile use cases and designed an excellent mobile experience around it. Way to keep the customers happy and improve the bottom line. As a professional in the space and a consumer with a nifty mobile device in my purse, I just hope more retailers follow Staples example sooner than later.
    Was a bit amused to see that they were caught by surprise at their customers opening email offers and searching for products on their phones... I guess for brands and retailers, who've been bombarded by app marketing in the last couple of years, a native app downloaded through an app store became almost synonymous with having an actual mobile strategy. Glad to see more awareness and understanding that there are numerous entry points into a mobile experience, most of which don't lead into an app, but to the mobile website.

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