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Staples exec: Mobile location potential lies in shopper services, not marketing

NEW YORK – A Staples executive speaking at the Mcommerce Summit: State of Mobile Commerce 2014 said the retailer sees a bigger opportunity with leveraging beacons and other mobile location technologies for enhancing the in-store experience as opposed to delivering marketing.

Staples, the third largest online retailer, has been slow to embrace mobile, but shifted its strategy into high gear in the past six months, updating multiple mobile assets. During the “How Mobile is Transforming the Ecommerce Behemoth’s Dialogue with Customers” session, the executive discussed how the quicker iterative pace will continue going forward, with Staples focusing on transforming the customer experience by reducing friction.

“We are building a buy online and pick-up in store and will enable location-based services,” said Ryan Bartley, head of mobile at Staples, Framingham, MA.

“You should be able to walk into a Staples stores and your order should be ready and the customer associate should be able to know your name and smile at you,” he said. “Those kinds of interactions and experiences are available when you have location.

“We are going to skew to the side of service  as opposed to using them completely as a marketing channel.”

Small business hub
Staples was a late-mover in mobile with work not beginning in earnest until 2012.

Mr. Bartley said that Staples mobile story right now is more about how it is transitioning and reimagining the entire business, with mobile at the forefront. As a result, what is currently in market is not on the cutting edge, but he expects this to change in the near future as the mobile team works to quickly introduce new solutions.

The new mobile strategy is in response to the significant shift Staples sees in use and eyeballs going to mobile, with 10 percent of the retailer’s ecommerce volume now done through mobile.

A key focus of the retailer’s mobile strategy will be on reducing friction for shoppers as opposed to engaging shoppers.

From a customer perspective, the mobile strategy will be focused on small and medium sized businesses.

“Small and medium size business customers right now have a disparate experience, they have to go to copy and print shop and have to go to Costco,” Mr. Bartley said. “We think that being the hub and center for small business is a place that Staples can win and will focus on that.”

Logistics networks
One way the retailer hopes to achieve its mobile vision is by taking advantage of Staples’ current assets and capabilities, such as the ability to deliver online orders the next day to 98 percent of the population. Staples also has a large sales force and large customer service organization already in place.

“We’ve seen many ecommerce players make a significant investment in these capabilities, building logistics networks and warehousing,” Mr. Bartley said. “What they have overlooked is the customer experience.

“We think there are places of innovation within the customer experience,” he said. “My teams are looking at exploiting those capabilities that we have across Staples in very new and interesting ways.”

Reducing friction
The retailer recently relaunched its mobile Web experience with a bigger focus on commerce and reports seeing significant gains already.

The mobile application has also been revamped and moved to a hybrid experience designed to enable users to come into a store and quickly shop.

Staples is also working on a tablet Web site, having started testing a new homepage this week focused on relevant products and the shopping experience.

An iPad app will be launched in a couple of weeks.

“Those properties will be gone in three months,” Mr. Bartley said. “We are taking a completely different approach to mobile and commerce, skewing on the side of reducing friction where engagement doesn’t even happen.

“I could care less if we ever have a mobile app,” he said. “Imagine the friction that goes into downloading a mobile app, opening a mobile app, engaging users.

“I want to be able to predict what customers need and deliver on their behalf. We are thinking about how those products can be delivered to our customers in a much more seamless way than currently.”

Staples is also working on driving a completely different in-store landscape.

Location services will play an important role in the transformation of the in-store experiences.

Staples has also recently opened a new lab in Seattle with talent from eBay, Twitter, Amazon and others to focus on new ecommerce solutions.

“Main street USA will not go away in the next several years, but it will transform dramatically and we think this is the near-term  opportunity for Staples,” Mr. Bartley said. “We have about 330 million customers walking through our doors and we are not taking advantage of it from a digital perspective.”

Final Take
Ryan Bartley is head of mobile at Staples, Framingham, MA