Staples: From “Easy” to “Low Price”

staples easy buttonStaples has worked very hard to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Several years ago, they launched their “Easy” button marketing campaign, positioning themselves as the “easier” location to shop for all your business needs. It was a great move for the company and they largely succeeded in their efforts.

If you’ll remember, just about five years ago, office supply stores seemed to be popping up all over the place – Staples, Office Max and Office Depot were all major players. They were also competing directly with warehouse stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club. The big box retailers all had fairly large school and office supply areas. And grocery stores were in the game.

You had a whole bunch of similar stores selling very similar stuff. Many times, they sold exactly the same stuff. To make matters worse, office supply stores tended to have the same look and feel as one another. Consumers had no reason to choose one place over another other than price and location.

Staples found a way to differentiate themselves – the easy button. Now they find themselves in a leading position among office suppliers. But…

Staples has launched a new round of commercials, all of them focused on delivering one message: “Wow, that’s a low price.” This is an interesting move. Check out one of their new commercials:

Are their dangers in this move? My personal feeling is yes. They’ve worked so hard and invested a lot of money in becoming the “easy” play to shop (both on and offline) that they risk damaging their reputation (and ability to realize higher profits) by seeking short-term profit gains. What do you think? Perhaps they can afford to move into this arena now that they hold the #1 position in the office supply market? Sure, the economy is rough right now and it has been for the last three years, but consumers are still spending money with high-end retailers. My fear is that when you enter into the “low-price” mode, it is awfully hard to move out of that area: Consumers form expectations and they are reluctant to let you move away from this type of business model.

What do you think? Do you enjoy the new commercials? Will they get you to shop at Staples? Will you shop there more often because of their new “low-price” orientation?

My other gripe with the new Staples commercials is that they are incredibly annoying. They are noisy. I tend to relate noise to old school attention getting tactics. Remember the jerk in high school that did everything possible to draw attention to himself?

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2 thoughts on “Staples: From “Easy” to “Low Price”

  1. Good post Jason. I think you bring out a lot of great points. I think the brand team must have also been concerned about this eroding their “easy” image, as you point out, and they made sure that in virtually every frame the “Staples, that was easy” is shown. This was very purposeful and probably demanded by Staples. Also, at the end the spot, they end with a very strong “Staples, that was easy” message.

    Here’s why I think this might be a good spot. If, competitively, price is beginning to be an issue with consumers believing that they could get better prices elsewhere, they could just as easily lose their “easy” image as consumers start to believe that they have to shop around for the best deal or they feel that they have to sacrifice the ease of shopping at Staples for the low prices they need.

    In short, price, could be considered an element of “easy” and in that context, this might make sense for them to defend this position. Although it was not spoken, the “easy” message was still clearly communicated with the well organized, low shelves, wide aisles, two (not just one , but count them, two) employees there to help (in their other spot). Contrast that with shopping the office supply aisle at your Big Box Mart.

    In the short term, to mend a price image, I think this may work, but if they ever get away from that core “easy” message, by stating that they are the cheapest or that they, “stack it deep and sell it cheap,” etc., I agree, I think it would be bad for Staples as they are currently operating. In the current context however, they could easily shift the message to variety or other elements of “easy” without too much stretching.

    As a consumer, however, I think all I noticed in the ad was the two annoying guys yelling about prices.

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