Staples, the office supply mainstay, is shedding its shopping center image for a modernized approach. In 2014, the mega-retailer shuttered nearly 200 brick and mortar stores to focus on its online home, Staples.com. The same year, to further bolster e-commerce efforts, Staples opened its third innovation lab in Seattle, Washington, following similar launches in San Mateo, California, in 2013 and Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2012.
But the biggest move Staples has made to prepare for a digital future, perhaps, has been to bring in the person to lead these changes. Faisal Masud, Staples’s executive vice president of global e-commerce, joined the firm in 2013. Masud began his career at Kozmo.com, a venture-capital-funded online delivery service, before hopping to executive roles at eBay and Amazon. Most recently, he worked as vice president and general manager of Groupon, where he was tasked with heading up retail strategy and merchandising, inventory, marketing, engineering, and operations.
Today, Masud has oversight of Staples’ digital presence, and in his short tenure, has penetrated the market with a decidedly entrepreneurial approach. Leading a team of several hundred engineers and e-commerce veterans, Masud has scooped up talent from startups and private businesses across the country and has helped launch back-end outposts in California, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C., among other locations.
“We’re really expanding our thought process to incorporate a lot more digital initiatives,” Masud says. “We’re building the talent and reporting and using data sets that really put digital at the forefront.”
It’s a bold move for Staples, which is distancing itself from the retail office supply pack to better compete in the digital world.
Online sales have offered the company a beacon of hope. Today, Staples is the fourth largest e-retailer in the country, behind only Apple, Amazon, and Walmart. But to compete with the industry giants, and to not lose additional ground to Walmart—whose web sales growth outpaced every online retailer in 2014—Staples has to rethink its online business model.
That’s where Masud comes in. In his new role, he has helped Staples construct a fresh vision for the changing retail landscape.
As more consumers move online to purchase the products that power their lives, Staples aims to be the go-to resource for everything B2B. Largely, that means increasing the sheer volume of products available for purchase on Staples.com. In the last two years, the company has added more than a million SKUs to its website, with the bulk of the new products catering to four industries: restaurant, retail, hospitality, and health care.
“The big picture is really extending the selection beyond office supplies for all B2B,” Masud says. “It’s not just pens and papers and supplies anymore; we want to be a one-stop shop for all business needs.”
Winning market share takes more than just adding volume, though. Today’s consumers want an omni-channel experience: fast, affordable purchase options, and the ability to make those decisions from all of their devices.
“Part of my role here is to figure out what the customer of the future wants,” Masud says. “Let’s be clear: it’s not going to be physical. But it’s not going to be just digital, either—it’s going to be a hybrid.”
Technology initiatives, like a just-launched mobile app that allows users to design business cards, invitations, and more (the product of the company’s recent acquisition of Makr, a Brooklyn-based startup) will help meet the demand for a multi-channel experience. But the move toward a seamless, user-friendly online and mobile interface must be supported by a modernized storefront, Masud says. So while Staples works to revamp its digital business plan, the company is using technology, like price-matching initiatives and kiosks that provide endless aisles for products not available in-store, to improve the shopping experience in its storefronts.
“We’re playing big in services; we want a world-class experience for our customers,” Masud says. It’s a new world for the retailer. In some ways, it’s a new world for Masud as well—this is the first time he’s worked in a newly-created role designed specifically for someone with his skill set.
“To really understand a business like Staples is complex—there’s a contract business and enterprise market and an online business,” he says. “Not many companies have three robust channels. Having to navigate these waters has been challenging and interesting at the same time.”
As a self-proclaimed “evangelist of digital,” Masud’s allegiances are clear. But his motivation doesn’t stray far from any retail executive’s—he’s always thinking about the customer experience. “The things customers want these days are speed, convenience, and the best price,” he says. “We want to hedge our bets on all three of those things.”