Staples Second Quarter Profit Drops 16 Percent

Using Asymmetrical Merchandising Online and Offline

For years advertisers have been using pictures to create stories in the minds of customers. Through magazines, TV, online, and now mobile, products and services are placed in picturesque settings – igniting customers to imagine how the product or service can fulfill their desires and needs.

Social sites like Pinterest and Polyvore have expanded on this concept; where users pin or post pictures of products, services or things that interest them. The result is a curated grid of products. When products are presented with this type of strategy, shoppers have shown to buy more. According to Gartner research, 59% of consumers made a purchase after seeing a Pinterest pin board. Polyvore drives 20% of all social media merchandising online.

These results caught the eye of 2nd largest online retailer, Staples. Staples used Pinterest and Polyvore as part of the inspiration for redesigning its online and bricks-and-mortar stores. By using asymmetrical merchandising strategies and utilizing consumer insights from social, scientific and lab insight perspectives, Staples decided to simplify the selection of items on their web-site and in their stores.

Arun Arora, ‎SVP/GM Global e-commerce at Staples, told delegates at this year’s NRF Big Show about how they leveraged the idea of “curation,” to help shoppers overloaded with information make purchasing decisions quicker and simpler to make.

In the redesigned of Staples’ physical stores, Staples’ decided to scale back on the overwhelming assortment of products offerings. This has meant selecting the “top three products that have most relevance for the features and price-points that our customers look at,” said Arun. If shoppers wanted to then browse a wider selection, Staples’ installed a variety of digital kiosks that give access to the huge assortment of items sold on Staples.com.

More specifically, Staples’ employed the strategy of asymmetrical merchandising, showcasing products together that have no obvious connection. Similar to how advertisers use pictures to tell a story, Staples grouped together unrelated products on a display to tell a story about how that grouping of products can fulfill a shopper’s needs and goals. For example, Staples created break room and facilities room mock-ups that put products into a context that may spur additional, related purchases from office managers. The strategy improved on the traditional aisle with simplified, more compelling product placement

Since October 2013—the day the new site went live—the company has seen a 100% increase in conversion. Their in-store shops reduced their store footprint from 28K to 12K sq ft and kept of product selection. By using an asymmetrical approach, Staples has achieved their goals of increasing revenue while simplifying the website or stores, reducing the number of SKUs.

Rebecca Shirazi is the marketing manager at RBM Technologies. She is a frequent contributor to MerchandisingMatters.com, where she writes in the areas of marketing, merchandising and supply chain.