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Staples simplifies back-to-school mobile shopping with AI-based list-scanning feature

Staples is preparing for back-to-school season by enabling its application users to snap a photo of their shopping list, send it to a store associate through an AI-based chat and receive the best product options, which can be purchased and picked up in store or shipped to their homes.

The office supplies brand is piloting a new beta test within its Staples iOS mobile app in a bid to remove stress from hectic back-to-school shopping experiences and simultaneously drive sales of its products. IPhone users can take advantage of the “Scan My List” feature to send a photo of their list of desired school-related supplies to an associate via the Staples Easy System, resulting in the ultimate convergence of mobile and bricks-and-mortar shopping.

“We see all of our channels working together,” said Faisal Masud, executive vice president of global ecommerce at Staples, Inc. “While we know that some customers prefer to do back-to-school shopping in person with their kids, so they can touch and feel the products in a store, others like the convenience of doing everything digitally.

“With the option of picking up their order in the store the same day where available, our retail locations are an integrated into ‘Scan My List,’” he said. “This is just another omnichannel option for busy parents.”

AI-based list scanning
With many school districts providing parents with a pre-approved printed list of required school supplies, Staples sought to streamline the shopping process by enabling its iOS app users to scan this list with their smartphones and virtually submit it to a store associate.

Once individuals snap the photo, they can send it via the Staples Easy System, which is accessible within the app.

A store associate will then provide the shopper with a list of options for his or her desired products. Customers can choose to customize those options or purchase them outright by checking out within the mobile app.

They may pick up their orders from their local Staples store or have the items shipped to their homes.

The “Scan My List” feature was developed in response to feedback regarding customers’ time limits for back-to-school shopping.

Staples sought to remove hassle from the process – especially for time-strapped consumers with multiple children – by allowing them to complete the majority of the product-choosing process on their mobile devices.

The Staples Easy System leverages artificial intelligence, crowdsourced data, computer vision and mobile interfaces to power the chat-based experience, which lets users ask Staples employees any service questions.

Although this platform’s beta test is currently live for customers, it can also be applied for a variety of clients, including business owners or employees who may want to snap a photo of their office to receive product reordering suggestions.

Staples is already seeing 10 percent of iOS app users leverage the chat-based service on a daily basis.

Office supplies and omnichannel shopping
The “Scan My List” feature is not the only recent omnichannel initiative that Staples has rolled out.

The office supplies brand brought a stronger omnichannel focus to its commerce strategy earlier this summer by fulfilling consumers’ get-it-now demands with the new Staples Rush service, which enables customers to purchase items from the retailer’s mobile-optimized site and receive same-day delivery (see story).

Additionally, Staples further bridged the gap between physical and digital shopping experiences by recently piloting a new in-app feature that enables users to leverage an interactive store map to locate products more quickly, tapping a rising trend used by other major retailers such as Target (see story).

However, the “Scan My List” tool’s back-to-school focus will likely resonate positively with busy consumers seeking to simplify their shopping experiences ahead of the new scholastic year.

“We know how busy a time back-to-school can be for parents, and we’re trying to give them back their most precious asset – time,” Mr. Masud said. “But this latest feature developed by our mobile team has implications beyond just this season.

“We see potential opportunities with office managers and small- to medium-sized businesses, as they can utilize the functionality to quickly reorder everything they need for their breakroom or office.”