Staples is beta testing a new feature for its iOS mobile app that allows parents to share a photo of their child’s back-to-school shopping list, alerting a Staples associate to populate the customer’s shopping cart to accelerate their purchasing and checkout process.
After the cart is filled, Staples customers can check back in and buy immediately or customize their items in the cart, as well as choose to pick up their order in store (where available) or have it shipped to them.
- The office supplies retailer said the shopping list feature uses the Staples Easy System on the iOS app to convey the photo message. The system uses computer vision, artificial intelligence, crowdsourced data and mobile interfaces to enable a chat-based experience, which also makes it easy for customers to ask Staples for any changes or other service questions.
Staples may have finally realized that talking a lot about making things easy is probably less effective with customers than actually making them easy. Not long ago, the retailer talked about testing a similar chat-like capability embedded in Staples' famous Easy Button. Staples also has been very active in trying new things to woo a growing group of customers conducting more aspects of the shopping process via smartphone, and this is the latest step in that effort.
There is no particular reason that this iOS feature should be limited for use during back-to-school shopping season. It's more likely that the readiness of the app being tested coincided with the second biggest shopping season on the calendar. It sounds like a feature that would make sense for any type of customer, including Staples' business customers, to use at any time, so don't be surprised if we see it rolled out into wider availability as the holiday season approaches.
Staples certainly could use a boost. The company's CEO Ron Sargent stepped down in May after the feds successfully blocked the planned merger of Staples and rival Office Depot. The emergence of Amazon's Dash button also served up some public embarrassment as it underlined how the Staples Easy Button didn't actually do anything — at least Staples is now trying to rectify that.
The new feature now in beta is one of those mobile app tools that aims for the core of how retailers believe mobile shoppers would like to and expect to shop, and it's what providing shoppers with an omnichannel experience is all about. Now, Staples just needs to find out if shoppers really do like and really do use it. If they do, Staples may need to hire more associates very soon to help it read shopping lists and fill carts. Or maybe there's a bot for that, too.