Framingham, Mass. - Staples has joined the extremely short list of non-CE specialty retailers - along with Costco in 2007 to displace Best Buy from its usual perch as Best National Retailer.
The No. 1 office-supply retail chain earned that distinction by creating the office superstore concept and providing a vast range of products and services to customers in 26 countries through more than 2,000 stores, 91,000 associates, and one of the world's largest global e-commerce sites.
In the process, Staples moved beyond toner and corded telephones to present a rich assortment of CE to small and large businesses, students and consumers alike, creating a vital new channel for PCs, printers, peripherals, software, digital imaging, portable navigation devices, personal media players, networking products and all manner of accessories, which now represent about 40 percent of the total mix.
To keep all that equipment running smoothly, the company also developed a Staples EasyTechs IT-support service that provides customers with a wide range of technology assistance, including new computer setup, hardware and software installations, data transfer and security, and repair and troubleshooting.
Along with EasyTechs, Staples also continues to soothe customers' CE jitters with its "That was easy" marketing campaign.
Apparently the strategy is paying off. According to TWICE's Top 100 CE Retailers Report, Staples ranked 16th in consumer electronics sales nationwide last year, with more than $1.4 billion in revenue. New stores and a widening array of technology products helped boost CE sales 7.3 percent during the depths of the recession, putting the chain ahead of hhgregg, Sony Style, P.C. Richard, BJ's Wholesale, Kmart and QVC in electronics sell-through.
Overall financial performance has also bucked the economic storm. Second-quarter profits rocketed 40 percent to $130 million on flat sales of $5.5 billion for the three months ended July 31, while its 1,888 North American retail stores increased revenue 2 percent to $2 billion and raised the operating income rate by 5.3 percent thanks to increased product margins and reduced depreciation, distribution and marketing expense.
Currently, the retailer is gearing up for a fresh CE infusion later this fall led by Kindle, which would make it only the third retailer besides Amazon.com, Best Buy and Target to carry the e-tailer's proprietary e-book reader and related accessories.
"As part of our efforts to offer customers a wide range of top technology products and services at amazing values, the new Kindle is a natural fit," said Jevin Eagle, Staples' merchandising and marketing executive VP. Added Amazon's Steve Kessel, senior VP for Kindle, "We are excited that such a great company and brand as Staples will be offering the new generation Kindle to its customers."
Staples will carry three Kindle models: the basic $139 unit; the Kindle 3G ($189); and, beginning in late fall, the 9.7-inch Kindle DX for $379.
This past summer Staples was first out of the gate to establish itself as a destination for back-to-school CE with an expanded assortment that included Hewlett-Packard's DV6 notebook ($700); High Sierra's Beatrice over-the-shoulder tote bag with pockets for a notebook computer and cellphone ($60); and Omnitech's 2GB swivel flash drive ($13), 2GB clip-on MP3 player ($30) and mini portable speaker ($10).
The company is also looking to reenter the mobile business through trials of cellular sections within its CE departments.
"Staples is focused on making it easy for our customers to buy office products, technologies and services," Eagle said in a statement issued to TWICE. "One of the growth areas for our business and our customers is in the technology space. With the proliferation of hardware and software options, customers need a trusted advisor to purchase the right products and keep them up and running."
He added: "Staples has many options for our business customers, for example, offering a wide range of laptops and networking solutions for the office, and providing hot new technology like the Kindle and Beats headphones for business travelers."