Why Staples is Investing Big in Mobile Commerce

As an M&A investment banker focused on the e-commerce sector, and creator of the Web-only RetailIndex, a diverse group of constituents have asked me to comment on the macro environment for the office products category and outlook for mobile commerce in particular.

Amazon Supply

On April 23rd Amazon (AMZN), the largest consumer e-commerce site, announced that it intends to shower attention on corporations and business with the launch of AmazonSupply.com, a business-to-business e-commerce site.  One product category targeted in particular is office products.

If stock returns over the past two years (StaplesOffice Depot and OfficeMax down by -35.0%, -62.4% and -73.2% respectively) are predictive of future performance, all eyes are focused on each competitors strategic plans.


Staples Goes all-in with Mobile Commerce

During his keynote address to the Mobile Workshop June 8 at the IRCE 2012, Brian Tilzer, Vice President of Global e-Commerce said, “Mobile is a constantly evolving space and you have to be continually thinking about your next move.”

“More and more shoppers are turning to their mobile devices as a way to research and shop whenever and wherever they want.  Staples is thinking ahead and anticipating customers’ needs, providing an offering that not only serves as an m-commerce tool but listens to, and solves, customers’ pain points.”

To these ends Staples focuses on saving time for small business owners, so they have more of it to dedicate to their businesses.  Time savers incorporated into the latest mobile app include an optimized ink & toner finder, access to Staples Rewards, list building functionality and batch scanning.

Moving forward Brian Tilzer says that, “Staples Velocity Lab in Cambridge, Mass will become home to some of the world’s best e-commerce talent with the goal of rapidly bringing breakthrough new ideas to market in emerging online technologies like mobile commerce and social media”.  Staples expects to the triple the size of its e-commerce team over the next three years.

In regard to why Staples’ strategic plans will set it apart from its competitors, Mr. Tilzer says, “If we focus on the customer good things should be in store (pun intended).”

Facebook’s Problem May be the Real Opportunity

More than half of Facebook’s (FB) users access the social network through a mobile device.  Since the vast majority of revenue currently comes from advertising, the company is focused on how to monetize its mobile offering.

In my opinion Facebook’s problem may be the real opportunity.  Companies that bet big on mobile commerce and don’t focus on helping Facebook make money in the process, may lose their 1st mover advantage to (Facebook’s market) and be forced to double down later.

What are your thoughts and how will this impact your investing decisions in the sector?

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