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Posted on Jan 27, 2014

Staples: Reinventing or Removing Simplicity?

According to Internet Retailer it is no surprise that is the largest eCommerce site. So who is #2?

Believe it or not, it’s

Of course, the $10+ Billion in online sales at Staples is a far cry from Amazon’s $60+ Billion. But Staples isn’t clamoring to get to the #1 spot (at least not yet).  Right now it’s working hard to reinvent itself.

The traditional office supply category is under a lot of pressure. Annual sales in comparable Staples stores have declined or remained flat for several years now, among the worst in retail.

So what is Staples doing about it?

Changes at Staples

Staples is expanding their assortment of products. And not just a few more. A whole lot more!

They are increasing their SKUs from about 200,000 to more than 1 million. And since a typical Staples store only carries about 8,000 SKUs, these new items will only be available online.

So, in the past few months, Staples has redesigned their website to make it easier and faster for both business customers and consumers find what they need. They are also promoting “multi-channel shopping” with smartphone applications, kiosks in stores, and other options to drive customers to their website.

To reinforce the fact that Staples is adding thousands of new products beyond office supplies, the company is also changing its logo by removing the “L” – the iconic bent staple. In it’s place, the company will profile various products that customers might not realize the company sells, such as water-hose spray guns, scales used in medical settings, and even dog biscuits.

In addition, Staples recently replaced its familiar “That was Easy” tagline with a new one: “Make More Happen”. As highlighted in one of their newest ads, Staples has whatever you need to make your big idea happen – except the Big Idea.

So what impact will these changes have on the company’s values?

5 Values of Staples

Staples proudly promotes and defines 5 company values:

  1. Own it – Take personal responsibility. Act with urgency. Be accountable. Trust yourself and others to make decisions.
  2. Say it like it is – Listen first to understand. Give and receive honest feedback. Share new ideas and brutal facts courageously. Speak up to defend our values.
  3. Be caring – Support each other professionally and personally. Think about the impact of your actions and words. Remember to say “thank you”.
  4. Keep it simple – Focus on priorities. Streamline and simplify. Call out unnecessary complexity. Get rid of bureaucracy and red tape.
  5. Work together – Collaborate. Rely on each other. Share resources, information and best practices across teams. Always think customer first.

All five are a succinct way to define acceptable behavior, the guiding principles of the organization. Or is I call them: Fundamental Values.

However, one of them aligns well with what sets Staples apart from all other office supply companies: Keep it simple. Since 2003, Staples has enjoyed huge success with their “That was Easy” campaign. Simplicity was an important differentiating value.

Simplicity = absence of pretense; not complex or complicated or involved; elementary.

But as Staples reinvents itself, will simplicity continue to be a differentiating value?

Simplicity in Question?

With the greatly expanded product selection and new marketing focus on Make More Happen, the challenge for Staples will be on preserving the value of simplicity.  It’s great to offer more choices – as long as it doesn’t create more complexity in the lives of customers.

If Staples wants to successfully compete in the world of online eCommerce, it needs to learn from the #1 site: Amazon. Staples needs to:

  • Make the experience simple and easy.
  • Continually remove complexity and complications.
  • Keep the process elementary.

Staples also needs to be aware of other competitors in this space coming up quickly, including Wal-Mart which is already doing almost as much eCommerce business as Staples. And there are many other businesses desperately trying to compete with Amazon.

But Staples has a head start in one specific area: their 65,000+ associates know how to Keep it Simple. It’s their competitive advantage.

Let’s hope management recognizes this fact and reinvents itself with simplicity.


What do you think of the shift in strategy at Staples?

Do you think Staples can preserve simplicity as a differentiating value?


Today’s value was selected from the “Fairness-Respect” category, based on the e-book Developing Your Differentiating Values.