Office Super Stores. Staples or Office Depot?

Office Supply Stores – Who Wins? Staples, Office Depot or OfficeMax?

By Tom Dougherty

Office Supply StoresMy colleagues and I were recently discussing the lack of brand surrounding pharmacies, in particular the three main players: Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens. This immediately brought to mind the office-supply super stores because they suffer from the very same problem.

It is utterly apparent that in the office supply world, the three main players – Staples, Office Depot and OfficeMax – have no brand. In fact, they seem to be one brand tied in together: That of an office supply store.

Over the years, these chains have done very little to differentiate themselves in the minds of the consumer. It’s homogenized that all three used the exact color palate for their logos at one time. (See below.)

They all look and feel the same

It’s bad enough that all three have such similar looks, (see our writings on visual identity) but not one has done anything to create a real brand — one that resonates in the mind of the consumer.

Office Supply StoresThere is nothing unique or special that Staples branding, Office Depot branding or OfficeMax branding has to offer. They have failed to create any preference aside from location and/or price. There is so little difference in these three super chains that there have been times when I have entered one or the other and I’m not quite sure which one I’m in.

Obviously, I’m not alone as evident by a quote in a recent Business Week article in which Bob Thacker, vice president for advertising and marketing at OfficeMax, and in charge of Office Max branding acknowledged this by saying that consumers see so little difference between the chains that some of his customers trundle up to a cashier and write out checks to Office Depot (as oppose to OfficeMax).

Small tweaks as a category

Give OfficeMax branding credit for eventually developing a logo that differs in color and style today to that of Staples and Office Depot. However, it appears OfficeMax is a bit schizophrenic in doing so and obviously were under the misconception that a new logo was enough to cause preference. A logo is not a brand. A new logo is supposed to represent a change and nowhere can you find one. (Below are the changing logos for OfficeMax from 2001 to present.

In addition to OfficeMax constantly changing their corporate logo, it also introduced a trivialized gimmick a few years ago: “Elf Yourself”(reminiscent of Staples and its “Easy Button”). This was another attempt to increase awareness and differentiation. But both have done very little of either.

Where do you shop?

And speaking of customer loyalty (see our writing on making brand a marketing tool), the big three have all come up with the very inventive idea of rewarding their customers for shopping with them. For Staples, there is Staples Rewards, OfficeMax offers MaxPerks and Office Depot branding has Worklife Rewards. Furthermore, the benefits are basically the same. I currently have the rewards cards for both Staples and Office Depot, and still the only reason I choose one over the other is location and nothing more.

Office Supply StoresBeyond location, weekly savings and the reward programs, what have any of these stores done to stand out in the mind of the consumer? Though Staples’ position is to make things easy for the customer, that’s not always the case depending on which location you choose. They do not always fulfill that promise of ease and. furthermore, should be a table stake not a differentiator.

Staples branding, Office Depot branding and OfficeMax branding are all doing the same thing and one thing they are all missing is a brand that will resonate with the consumer. With the way each company is currently positioned, why would there be loyalty to any of the chains? Staples continues to be the market leader for a few reasons. They were first to market and they have a much larger footprint than the other two.

But the competitor that considers more deeply what drives consumers emotionally – and differentiates itself – will take that market leadership away. (Read out retail study here)

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