Staples has grown from a traditional retail business into one of the largest B2B commerce companies. In the early 2010s, the emerging threat of e-commerce forced the company to turn to digital channels. At the time, online B2B marketplaces were just starting to gain traction as a viable procurement method. By focusing on their B2B channel, Staples had an opportunity to grab a large share of this fast-growing market.
By 2017, Staples’ B2B sales grew to make up close to 60% of the company’s revenue. There were three key focus areas powering their B2B growth:
- Expanding their product offerings
- Optimizing the customer experience
- Upgrading their e-commerce technologies
Expanding B2B Product Offering
In 2013, Staples worked to scale its product offering from 200,000 to more than 1 million SKUs. This expansion included product categories outside its traditional office supplies market. The expanded product offering was available to both consumer and business customers. But the greater emphasis was placed on offering more products for businesses.
Our CEO Faisal Masud, who was Chief Digital Officer at Staples at the time, said businesses have many needs beyond office products. They could require anything from hard hats to products for employee break rooms. It was Staples’ goal to cover any of these business needs. With the expanded product offering, they could position themselves as a one-stop marketplace for B2B customers.
Optimizing the Customer Experience
In July 2015, Staples announced a major overhaul to its B2B marketplace, StaplesAdvantage. The goal of the redesign was to significantly improve the shopping experience for their B2B customers. Regarding the changes, Faisal stated: “Users will immediately notice an overall improved functionality on the site in their digital shopping experience. This will allow them to quickly and efficiently get the products they need to succeed.”
Staples removed elements that could be distracting to users from their web pages. Focus shifted to information that is more important to customers like reviews and shipping estimates. A new navigation bar made it so buyers could quickly shop for products for their specific use case. By following the Industry link, shoppers could view dedicated product sections for retail stores, healthcare facilities, and other verticals. The navigation bar also displayed a store locator link. This opened a map displaying the closest stored based on the users’ IP address.
With the upgrade, Staples Advantage offered vital features for business customers including order history data and predictive reordering services. The checkout process was enhanced so that buyers were able to select a product and submit their payment in three clicks or less.
Customers experienced a greater level of personalization when shopping through their business accounts. Staples had recently acquired e-commerce personalization technology company Runa. This gave them the ability to show dynamically changing product recommendations and prices to each customer.
These changes to the shopping experience came at a time when B2B buyers were starting to look for a more autonomous buying process. By providing this advanced level of functionality, Staples began to stand out from competing B2B marketplaces.
Upgrading E-Commerce Technologies
Staples decided they needed to upgrade their e-commerce technology to better compete with Amazon and other marketplaces. This led the company to shift from a monolithic IBM WebSphere environment to a microservices-based architecture. The microservices architecture gave Staples more flexibility and a product they could own end-to-end. Each commerce component such as search, cart, and checkout operated as an independent service.
The IT organization consisted of teams dedicated to an individual service. Each team had its own developers and product managers and was responsible for testing and iterating on the service. This dedicated product ownership helped Staples roll out new releases at a much faster pace.
Staples was able to grow its B2B business by prioritizing technology and the e-commerce procurement process. Individual microservices gave the company an unlimited ability to shape its shopping experience to its liking. With former Staples executives leading the way, our e-commerce products are designed to give organizations the same flexibility.