Office Depot Offers Grande Loyalty, Hold the Discount

Mar 14, 2005

By John Hennessy

Office Depot’s “Web Café” is an innovative marketing program that identifies and satisfies an unmet customer need. The program consists of online seminars available to anyone, not just members of its Advantage loyalty program.

According to Jennifer Bossinger, content manager for e-commerce at Office Depot, “We wanted to reach out to our customers who are small/home office professionals and provide them with a unique service that they could really benefit from. We recognize that most small/home office professionals probably don’t have time to step away from the workplaces in order to attend a business seminar. This seemed like a wonderful way to leverage the flexibility of the web in a way that can really benefit our core customer.”

Held every Tuesday on of alternating months, Web Café seminars are hosted by subject matter experts and cover topics such as Improving Productivity, Effective Marketing and Financial Management. Presenters and topics come from several sources. Often a prior presenter will recommend someone. Office Depot also constantly solicits feedback from its customers on the program.

“We like for it to be really be helpful to our customers,” says Ms. Bossinger.

Participation in the program has doubled since it was launched in 2002, with a good balance of new and returning participants. Some attend several seminars, others pick and choose topics of interest to them and their current business situation. According to Ms. Bossinger, “If they cannot attend a live event, we also offer replays in our archives, which are available for viewing at their convenience.”

This program helps Office Depot differentiate itself in the highly commoditized office products marketplace. Office Depot elevates itself from supplier to business partner through helpful content, provided in a convenient format.

Moderator’s Comment: What can other retailers offer shoppers that go beyond discounts?

Online webinars aren’t just for the office any more. Broadband Internet access has hit home in a big way with more than half of Internet users accessing
via broadband; just not the doubling in participation for Office Depot’s Web Café seminars.

While some may dismiss the idea of delivering educational online content because their customers aren’t businesses but individuals, a lot of those individuals
could participate in and benefit from such a program.

If you’re a supermarket, using in-store chefs aren’t new. They generate a lot of excitement but can also impede shopping on a busy Saturday and can only
reach people who are there when they’re there. And after a while, no matter how good the recipes, emails don’t have the WOW of a well-produced online presentation.

How about partnering with one of the emerging cook-at-home chefs for an online seminar. The chefs can share a few cooking secrets or techniques for preparing
a favorite dish and hopefully generate some business. The supermarket reaps new sales from those wishing to try out their newly acquired cooking skills. Shoppers gain professional
insight for free and a closer bond with the host supermarket. The success of the Food Network seems to indicate that this option in worth pursuing.

A department store could partner with a financial planner to offer seminars that help newlyweds prepare as they move into a new lifestage. It could be offered
as an additional service to those who use the store’s Bridal Registry.

A car dealer could partner with AAA to educate customers about scenic driving vacations. Perhaps even getting a fuel center to help underwrite production

There are lots of combinations that can benefit customers, other partners and your business. And none involve a sale price.
John Hennessy – Moderator

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3 Comments on "Office Depot Offers Grande Loyalty, Hold the Discount"

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Joe Leathers
Joe Leathers
17 years 2 months ago

Short and sweet: the Supermarket industry on the meat side needs to have some sort of consumer education on cooking. The youth of today have no clue on how to cook a meal. With the family structure changing and both parents working, the only time families are together is meal time. Cooking can and does bring families together – the more information we can share with the consumer the stronger the meat industry will get.

Bernice Hurst
17 years 2 months ago

Sounds good to me. The Office Depot seminars, courses that have been offered by Borders online for quite a long time, BBC learning courses and the ideas suggested by John can all make a huge difference to the way people learn and what they do with their jobs and lives. Sometimes, even if it’s just for interest and not any specific purpose, doing something like this can build loyalty to the provider. There are lots of things that I’d like to know more about and don’t have time to go out and study. Retailers have a wonderful opportunity through the internet.

Mark Hunter
Mark Hunter
17 years 2 months ago

Loyalty programs like this are no-brainers. Set up properly, they require very little effort on the part of the retailer, yet for the segment of consumers it appeals to, they can offer big value. No, programs like this aren’t going to turn around a retailer, but they do a very nice job of creating one more touch point. The real value in this particular program is how it touches their consumers while they’re at work, which is also when they’re most likely to realize they need office supplies and may encourage them to ‘web-shop” at their website rather than a competitors.


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