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Staples adds 100 businesses to Easy System in smart-ordering push

NEW YORK – A Staples executive at the Mcommerce Summit: State of Mobile Commerce 2016 said the new Easy System smart-ordering platform will soon add an additional 100 businesses as the retailer ramps up efforts to leverage next-generation retail technology such as artificial intelligence.

During the session, Staples: Exceeding Customer Expectations in an Omnichannel World, the executive also reported that the retailer’s application has been updated to provide interactive store maps at more than 80 stores, mostly in the New York and New Jersey region. These are the latest examples of how Staples is answering a challenge that most retailers face, which is how to deliver magical moments to customers via technology as their expectations grow.

“We are bringing our Easy Button to life,” said Gwen Murray, mobile marketing lead at Staples.

“What we want to accomplish is getting beyond a state of personalization to what we call individualization,” she said.

The Mcommerce Summit: State of Mobile Commerce 2016 was organized by Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer.

High expectations
Pointing to Uber, wearables, mobile ordering at Starbucks and the Purple app, Ms. Murray said that most people can agree that technology has dramatically changed marketers’ lives and the lives of consumers, shaping their expectations.

With this in mind, Staples launched Easy System, which is currently in beta for Staples Business Advantage customers. It enables users to place an order via email, text, voice or by pressing an Easy Button.

The idea is to enable users to flow in or out of whatever communication channel is for them while helping office administrators streamline the process of ordering office supplies.

All orders are automatically collected in a company cart and administrators are able to approve them prior to shipping.

Because the platform is built on artificial intelligence, it learns over time to streamline the ordering experience.

Artificial intelligence
Looking forward, Staples is considering how it might integrate APIs into the platform to build out third-party services, making it easy for small and medium-size businesses to order a car service, for example.

Artificial intelligence and chatbots are buzzwords in 2016.

Ms. Murray pointed to her own experience using the USAA mobile banking app as an example of the potential to enhance customer experiences. When clicking on the help button from within the checking account section, information related to checking is delivered while a user is in the insurance section.

“The fact that [the avatar] knows my context is really important,” Ms. Murray said. “Basically it is a repositioned FAQ page, but it is so much more engaging.”

Staples is also one of the first businesses to launch a chatbot on Facebook Messenger.

Taco Bell has launched a chatbot powered by Slack for placing orders.

“For us, this is a way of being really relevant by being where our customers are,” Ms. Murray said.

“All of these chatbots get smarter the more input you put into it,” she said. “The technology feeds on itself, gets smarter as it grows.”

Finding inspiration
Before jumping onto the next technology, it is important that retailers have the basics in place, such as having a product that consumers want and an effective distribution program.

There will be missteps along the way.

Staples introduced a feature in its app enabling members of its rewards program to see their rewards and scan the app in the store to earn and redeem rewards. However, not all of the retailer’s stores have a point-of-sale system than can scan glass.

With these hurdles in mind, retailers need to think of ways to leapfrog and stretch their thinking, per Ms. Murray.

To find inspiration, she recommends looking at emerging economies such as India, where consumers have most skipped over the desktop phase of connectivity and gone straight to smartphones. Large Indian retailer Flipkart saw this and decided to go mobile-only. However, this strategy backfired and the retailer ended up backing away from it, underscoring how even digital-only consumers want choices.

“We all want to fulfill our customers’ expectations,” Ms. Murray said.

“The pain points that we are all trying to solve – these are things we can agree on,” she said.

“Technology is going to help us get there, but before we get there, we need to make sure we have the basics right.”