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How an Office Supply Brand Stays On the Cutting Edge of Retail

Staples goes cross-country for digital push

Staples has three innovation labs spanning the West and East coasts.

When you think of savvy digital marketers, an office supply retailer may not be the first name that comes to mind. But over the past two years, Staples has opened three innovation labs—staffing roughly 170 employees in Seattle, San Mateo, Calif., and Cambridge, Mass.—to accelerate the brand’s push into e-commerce.

In Cambridge, the retailer’s Velocity Lab employs 55 people who focus on making mobile commerce as smooth as possible. That's probably a smart move since Forrester Research predicts that mobile will generate 66 percent of growth for online advertising over the next five years

Most recently, Staples' mobile team deployed a new app using Apple Pay. Earlier this year, they launched Visa Checkout—a feature that saves credit card information to speed up the checkout process within its mobile app. The Visa Checkout project took nine weeks to complete, making it the Framingham, Mass.-based company’s fastest deployment of technology ever. Velocity Labs also launched a new mobile site and iPad app this year.

Staples' Seattle Development Center is made of e-commerce and engineering teams responsible for driving major initiatives to enhance areas including search, SEO and personalization. | Photo: Business Wire

Meanwhile, the retailer opened an innovation office in Seattle in June to tap into a new group of West Coast talent and startup companies, and it houses 90 employees. The Washington office is primarily focused on in-store kiosks and internal search (which looks at how people search for products within Staples' Web and mobile sites). Nearly half of Staples.com’s revenue comes from internal search.

Staples also has an office in San Mateo, Calif., resulting from its acquisition of the data science company Runa last year. The purpose of the office is to personalize everything from email to coupon offers. Faisal Masud, evp of global e-commerce at Staples, highlighted the California office as an example of why his company is building technology of its own in these outposts.

"We had a huge dependency on third-party vendors that are using our data, and a lot of these vendors are not very b-to-b centric, and our business is very b-to-b centric," he said.

So far the efforts seem to be paying off. Revenue per visitor to Staples.com is up 20 percent year-over-year. On mobile, that number jumps to 40 percent. 

This article is part of a series this week profiling seven brands' innovation labs. Click here to read more.

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