As Parker Avery continues to collect responses to our latest research study, Channel Integration in the Store, I continue to be curious about this dynamic, and have been visiting my local retailers to see if I can witness first hand some of the changes that are being made.   Admittedly, my store visits are usually necessary for something I need or want to buy, but the consultant in me can’t help but try to understand how omnichannel is impacting my local retailers.  (I do sometimes get some deer-in-the-headlight looks when I’m quizzing store associates about pricing strategies, inventory visibility or fulfillment options, but my consultative questions are usually followed up by something fairly benign like “Does that come in black, too?”)
But it’s a fascinating dynamic:  How channel integration has and will impact store operations.  How retailers are making changes to staffing, scheduling, inventory, store layout, store locations and other elements that impact the shopping experience.  How they are ensuring their staff is an integral part of the entire shopping experience, both online and offline.   

I just read an article about Staples’ omnichannel strategy, and was surprised to find out that they are the #2 online retailer after Amazon.  And this is not new news – evidently they’ve held this position since 2007 (click here to see the Top 500 list).  While the article did focus mainly on their ecommerce strategies, there were some hints about changes being made in their physical stores.  Over the past year, Staples has closed over 100 stores, yet maintains that their physical presence is an integral part of their omnichannel strategy.  I take from this that they are strategically using their stores to accommodate multiple fulfillment options – similar to how distribution centers are strategically located to optimize logistics and reduce costs.  They understand that their customers – many of which are businesses or busy professionals – will often need their products in very short time frames or delivered to locations outside the normal corporate offices.   These store closures also help reduce their operating costs and real estate investments.

But by closing all of these stores, Staples’ revenue actually declined, so it would seem at first that their store closure strategy is backfiring.  However, I believe there are a few things at play:  
(1) Staples has instituted a price-matching policy for items available through its competitors in any channel (most brick-and-mortar retailers exclude online-only competitors from price-matching) – this is supposedly for the 2013 holiday season, but my guess is that they will continue this policy after the holidays;
(2) Staples expected the revenue drop and will probably invest heavily in marketing not only their price-matching policy, but also their broad online assortment and multiple fulfillment options, as well as build confidence in their consumer base that products will be fulfilled when and where expected (remember, “That was easy?”);
(3) Their customer relationship management systems are seamlessly integrated for online and physical shopping and tied to their loyalty program; and
(4) They will increase training for their store associates so they understand the role they play in Staples’ omnichannel strategy and also how to educate customers about omnichannel options to build awareness and set expectations that shopping with Staples, either online or in the store, is an experience with the brand, as opposed to the channel. 
All these factors, plus more, are what will drive success for Staples as they move forward with their channel integration strategies.  They seem to be heading down the right path with optimizing their physical presence and ensuring competitive pricing.  As long as they continue to keep the customer experience in the forefront in every way possible, and set expectations in all channels, they should fair well. 
Parker Avery is welcoming all retailers to participate in our channel integration study– we are very interested in understanding what other retailers are doing to integrate their channels and the impact on their stores.  We value your perspective, and respect your privacy and time – all respondent information will be kept anonymous, and the survey takes only about 15 minutes. 
Please visit participate.  The study closes on October 31. 
Shop on. 

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<.--[if .supportLists]-->       <.--[endif]-->Tricia