General Assembly recently hosted a conversation with Scott Kirsner, columnist for The Boston Globe, and Faisal Masud, EVP of eCommerce for Staples, to discuss the evolution of the retail industry through today’s digital age.
The discussion provided exciting insight into the future of Staples, in addition to the retail industry as a whole, as they reinvent their business to adapt to the digital age.
While the conversation yielded several thought provoking insights, a few distinct highlights stood out as particularly significant for large retail business operating in the digital age. Here are a few highlights, distilled by Anand Chopra-McGowan, our Head of Enterprise New Markets.
1. On ‘Customer Centricity’: While the “omnichannel” buzzword is now omnipresent in retail, Staples is working to move away from the “channel” as the organizing principle, and think only about what the customer needs and wants. This may seem simply semantic, but represents a significant change for Staples.
2. On Physical Stores vs. Online: Retail store locations expanded too quickly in years past – adding stores that simply couldn’t see enough volume to be profitable. While many Staples stores do very well, there are a number of regions where it makes more sense to drive customers to for Staples.com instead
3. On Recruiting Engineers: Digital talent acquisition is extremely significant and it is exceedingly difficult to get talented developers and technologists out to Staples headquarters in Framingham MA. Through acquisitions and its own “labs” groups, Staples now offers career opportunities in Seattle, San Mateo, and Cambridge.
4. On Advertising & Branding: Faisal’s mindset is no different from his former leader at Amazon Jeff Bezos – if the customer experience is stellar, you won’t have to spend money on advertising. According to Faisal, marketing spending at Amazon early on was diverted to providing lower cost or free shipping, with the expectation that having such a positive experience will build loyalty and word-of-mouth growth. That said, Faisal admitted that Staples needs to do a better job of promoting some of its lesser known services, like same-day delivery and price-matching.
Faisal’s remarks highlight an important theme we focus on in many of our educational programs at General Assembly – the concept of customer centricity. In an ever-changing business environment one of the few constants for large companies is the customer experience. Understanding how customers want to use your product or service is one of the strongest and simplest ways to design business strategy, regardless of the medium or channel that may be popular at the time.