Staples' Interactive Store Map Customizes In-store Shopping Experiences

With annual sales of $21 billion, it’s safe to say that office and supply superstore Staples knows a thing or two about retail. However, as with much of the bricks-and-mortar retail industry, Staples’s business model has come under pressure from ecommerce rivals, with Amazon, of course, causing the biggest headache of all.

As consumers increasingly head online to make their purchases – with mobile playing an ever-more critical role – physical store survival rests upon retailers’ abilities to innovate the in-store experience and give shoppers a reason to set foot through their doors. This is no mean feat – and for a store that sells crucial though nonetheless rather mundane items as Staples does (sorry, Staples), the task becomes even trickier.

But it is by no means impossible. In 2014, Staples began piloting in-store 3D printing services in two of its most prominent stores in New York and Los Angeles. This, indeed, was a forward-thinking innovation – as 3D printing began to enter public consciousness, the move gave customers a new reason to visit the store and try out this emerging technology for themselves.

By 2015, the 3D printing service had rolled out to nearly 2,000 store locations – in the US and elsewhere around the globe – and has now become, if you’ll pardon the pun, a staple feature of Staples stores.

But hype-cycles don’t last for long – and whereas 3D printing was not so long ago something new and exciting that, in itself, had the power to pull in people off the streets to see it in action, it is no longer. And so, when in absence of such a working footfall magnet, retailers must find ways and means to innovate (or at the very least improve) in-store shopping experiences in their own right, lest even more revenue is surrendered to incumbent online rivals such as the almighty Amazon.

Driving Footfall Through Mobile

One of the most important strategies in this regard is to successfully bridge the gap between physical and digital shopping experiences.

We’re still at a point where customers are shopping both online and in-store – what’s becoming increasingly crucial to the store-side of things, however, is the ability for each retailer to deliver as much ease and convenience to a shopping trip as consumers enjoy when browsing and buying online. Indeed, it is an omnichannel experience that retailers must offer if they are to continue to drive traffic to stores.

Staples has teamed up in-store mobile solutions company Point Inside to deliver just that – and it’s a smart move. With 70% of Staples’ app users identifying as omnichannel shoppers, introducing a new feature that continues to merge on- and offline shopping experiences gives customers what they want, and enables them to shop more seamlessly between their personal devices and the stores they enter.

Quick and Convenient In-Store Interactive Store Maps

The initiative in question consists of an interactive in-store map feature – currently running across 83 Staples store locations in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and the Seattle area – which is built into the Staples iPhone app.

Staples’ customers have been asking the retailer for easier ways of finding the items they need when shopping the often labyrinthine aisles. The new interactive app is Staples’ answer, which enables an easier and more convenient shopping experience for in-store customers, who can now route their trips before they even set foot in their local store.

“Our customers shop both in-store and online, so the app update enables customers to locate the products they want during their trip to their local Staples store,” said Faisal Masud, executive vice president of global ecommerce at Staples.

“The interactive map can also route a customer’s trip, showing them the easiest and most convenient way to collect their items and get to checkout. By digitizing the store with features such as interactive maps, we’re able to create a more user-friendly and customized shopping experience that adds real value to our customers’ Staples experience.”

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Customized Shopping Experiences

Staples’ decision to introduce interactive store maps taps a rising trend used by other major retailers such as Target, which has also recently turned to Point Inside to power an in-store mapping feature for the Target app – an initiative that saw 25% of shoppers immediately using the feature, with in-store sales rising as a result.

For Staples, the app update enables customers to pin-point and locate every product in their search at their local Staples store. Each shopping trip is in effect customized for the convenience of each shopper, allowing them to first check for item availability, navigate the fastest route through the aisles to collect the items off the shelves, proceed to check out and get quickly back to their busy working day.

“We know our customers are busy running their businesses and we’re always looking for ways to help them save time,” said Masud.

In many ways, the Staples’ interactive map is a rather simple feature, that perhaps lacks the wow-factor of enticing new technology such as 3D printing. However, it’s not to be sniffed at, for it’s precisely initiatives like these that are accounting for the fact that over $1 trillion worth of in-store sales are now being influenced by mobile.

Enabling customers to plan their trips, quickly locate their items, and be guided intuitively around large retail outlets provide the foundations for the sorts of experiences that will ensure that people keep coming through the front doors. For Staples, the interactive store map program serves as a precursor to a completely revamped mobile app, planned for launch later this year, which will deliver even more convenience for in-store shoppers. Combined with Staples’ other recently introduced shopping options – including the Staples mobile website, Buy Online Pick Up in Store, and in-store kiosks – mobile is set to be the key factor that will continue to improve the Staples in-store shopping experience.

The last word goes to Pete Coleman, executive vice president of business development at Point Inside.

“In-store mobile use represents a huge opportunity for retailers. When done right, it enhances a customer’s shopping experience, unlocks an incremental and premium advertising opportunity, and creates actionable insights that enable retailers to execute more effectively in-store. Retailers know that shoppers rely heavily on smartphones to make purchasing decisions, but most retailers do not realize that shoppers’ smartphone use mainly influences in-store shopping versus online purchases. In fact, 70 percent of retailers’ mobile traffic is destined for an in-store visit, and mobile [influenced] approximately $1 trillion in spending in 2016 for U.S. bricks-and-mortar retailers.”

Make sure to also download the Future Stores agenda to check out all of the great activities, speakers, & sessions planned for this year.

About John Waldron: John Waldron is a technology and business writer for markITwrite digital content agency, based in Cornwall, UK. He writes regularly across all aspects of marketing and tech, including SEO, social media, FinTech, IoT, apps and software development.

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