Staples’ Brian Coupland: Building Solutions for the ‘Remote & Ready’ Consumer  7/28/2020

Many of you are likely reading this from a makeshift home office, perhaps squeezing in time between virtual meetings with customers or colleagues while you’re kids are learning from home and wondering what school is going to be like when and if they return as the school year starts.

You might have recently waited on line getting takeout, standing on the social distancing floor marker as you read the sign noting that masks are required, and if you are venturing into work, you are taking precautions to ensure the safety of yourself, your team and your customers.

This is a part of everyday life now, and from the looks of things, will be the norm for the foreseeable future. All of these activites require products, tools and solutions to help optimize your efficiency and safety in this new world. And Staples is looking to provide them, reinventing its assortment to help us become “remote and ready.”

In this podcast, I speak with Brian Coupland, SVP of Retail Merchandising of Staples about the needs of today's consumers and businesses as they adapt the way they work, learn and communicate in a world of restricted travel, social distancing and sanitization, and how Staples itself is adapting its stores and assortments to accommodate these needs.

Indeed, ECRM is also playing its part in helping retailers find such solutions. It's School & Office Virtual Session and Consumer & Home Office Technology Virtual Session connects retailers to brands providing such solutions in private, pre-scheduled face-to-face digital meetings.

Below you'll find the link to my full podcast interview with Brian, as well as some brief takeaways from the interview. Enjoy!

Listen to the podcast

Key Takeaways

Working and learning from home
Virtually the entire U.S. population has had to change its habits to working or learning from home, and how, when and where people are doing this has fundamentally changed. And with new Covid-19 cases spiking across the country, for many it will remain changed for a long time to come, or even permanently. 

Approximately three-quarters of consumers don’t have a dedicated home office setup, so there are opportunities to help ensure that they are optimally equipped with the tools and technology they need to best engage with customers and colleagues or friends and family. This includes products around connectivity and communication – such as wifi, lighting, cameras and other items for virtual meetings, but also includes products geared toward the remote office space itself, particularly as these spaces are typically very small, makeshift areas within the home. Ergonomics and organization are now taking on a new level of importance. After all, sitting on a folding chair day-in and day-out is not a comfortable way of conducting business.

Community health
COVID-19 has also resulted in the need for more products aimed at ensuring a safe working environment for those people returning to work or school, including products for individuals as well as for businesses, classrooms, restaurants, retail locations and other businesses that have been operating steadily through the lockdown, or that are in various stages of opening up. And while it’s still unclear which schools will be opening up for the new year, and how they will be opening up, one thing's for sure: there will be an ongoing need for safety and sanitization-related products for both schools and students.

Communication tools
Another need the pandemic has created is that of communication tools for schools and businesses, whether to facilitate social distancing or to communicate safety protocols. This involves signage of all kinds, and as these protocols will likely evolve over time, the needs for such solutions will be ongoing.

Actions Staples is taking
Because of this, Staples is actively seeking out new vendors and new products to make customers “remote and ready,” and is in the process of reflowing a significant amount of its linear space and expanding and organizing these categories around remote working, wellness and communication in a big and bold way. 

In order to accomplish this, the merchandising team at Staples is engaging the supplier community in its search for these solutions consumers and businesses will need to navigate this uncertain future. In addition to participating in ECRM Virtual Sessions, the retailer is holding a digital vendor summit to find new and innovative products that meet the needs of today’s consumers, schools and businesses. According to Coupland, differentiation is a major goal for the chain, and so Staples will give exclusives and first-to-market opportunities high priority, and own brands will play a key role in its revamped assortments.

Looking ahead, Coupland says the level of productivity consumers have already experienced working remotely will keep this trend going long after the pandemic passes, particularly among those business that are seeing increased efficiency and/or expense savings from the new work-from-home culture. He and his team will continue to seek out ways to keep customers organized, inspired and safe wherever and however they are working and learning in the future. 


Wayne Bennett

Senior Vice President, Retail

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