FRAMINGHAM, MASS. – This isn’t your father’s office-supply store.
Staples, the No. 1 specialty bastion of pens, paper and printer ink, has long been a player in the IT space, and in recent years broadened its CE stance to encompass networking equipment, tablets, headphones, mobile phones, wireless speakers and related accessories.
Now, as the office-supply channel consolidates and warehouse clubs and discount chains compete for paperclip share, Staples is pushing the electronics envelope by embracing emerging categories like home automation, wearables and 3D printing within formalized in-store merchandising sections.
Most recently, the company rolled out home and small-business automation products under its Zonoffbased “Staples Connect” platform to a third of its roughly 1,500 locations last summer following a 32-store pilot.
It also dramatically expanded the assortment, increasing its home-automation selection to 148 SKUs from 38 companies, up from 60 products from 15 companies when it launched its pilot program last Thanksgiving.
The 38 suppliers with Staples Connect-certified products include Lutron, Philips, Honeywell, First Alert, Yale, Kwikset, Schlage, Leviton, Cooper, GE, D-Link, Radio Thermostat, Cooper, Leviton, Linksys, Sylvania, Aeon Labs, D-Link, Doorbot, GE, Jasco, Jawbone and Goji.
Pulling them together is a Staples Connect control app that’s available for Windows 8 PCs and tablets, iPad app and iPhone, Android devices and an HTML5 web-browser interface. With the Zonoff-based system, control and monitoring of all home systems are integrated into a single app.
About 40 to 50 of the products are displayed along an 8-foot-long gondola within 250 stores, while another 250 stores show a more tightly edited selection along a 4-foot home-automation display.
All 148 SKUs are available online.
Staples found through its pilot that IP cameras and lighting are the most in-demand applications, and that owners of the Staples home-automation hub have seven devices connected to it on average and use the Staples Connect app eight time per day.
In addition to the home-automation displays, all 500 stores also feature an 8-foot wearables section with about 35 to 40 SKUs, including products in different colors. The displays represent the retailer’s first dedicated merchandising effort for the category in-store , while about 75 to 80 SKUs are available online.
Wearables brands include Samsung, Polar, Magellan, Jawbone, Fitbit, Netatmo, Geopalz, Misfit, iFit and Striiv.
In addition, select wearables including smart watches and lifestyle trackers like Jawbone’s UP24 can control Staples Connect home products like thermostats, shades, cameras and doorbells. The chain said its platform was the first mass-market home-automation system to integrate with wearable devices.
The in-store assortment grew from a two-SKU, appenabled accessory display that was also launched in 32 stores last Thanksgiving. Staples decided to focus on wearables in its new displays after the company’s wearables sales “took off,” explained Peter Gerstberger, director/divisional merchandise manager of new business development.
Both the home-automation and wearables displays are located near each other toward the front section of the sales floor.
Meanwhile, Staples is also looking to add 3D-printing services to its selection of product. Through a partnership with hardware and software provider 3D Systems, the chain began testing the concept last spring in two pilot stores in in Manhattan and Los Angeles.
Both feature what the retailer described as “an immersive 3D-printing experience center,” which includes demo areas, a photo booth, and on-site support by a 3D Systems agent and Staples’ own copy-and-print associates.
Customers can use design software or bring in their own 3D-print-ready files, and capture their facial images in the photo booths to personalize 3D products like figurines or to print personalized smartphone cases on 3D Systems’ hardware. Items can also be printed off-site through 3D Systems and shipped to offices or home.
“3D printing offers enormous potential for small businesses, and by using Staples, they can print with the technology without having to invest in it,” said business services senior VP Damien Leigh.
Staples was the first major U.S. retailer to offer 3D printers following last year’s launch of 3D System’s $1,300 Cube in select stores and online. The chain has since rolled out additional 3D-printing hardware and accessories in a limited number of stores and expanded its overall product selection.