Retailers have good reason to support customers working from home

Discussion
Staples’ Convertible Wall-Mount Desk by Homenations - Photo: Staples
Feb 22, 2022

To meet what many see as a permanent shift toward remote working coming out of the pandemic, Staples last week launched the Work From Home (WFH) Style Squad, a group of experts sharing design advice, product picks and tips to help customers reimagine their home workspaces.

Overseen by interior designer and star of the HGTV reality show, “Hidden Potential,” Jasmine Roth, the site, staplesconnect.com/workspace, offers inspiration from “designers, entrepreneurs and creatives” on outfitting work-from-home (WFH) spaces, from furniture to lighting and the latest technology.

Staples cited a Gallup poll from last October in which 76 percent of workers reported their employer is allowing partial remote work going forward.

Marshall Warkentin, chief marketing and merchandising officer, Staples US Retail, said in a statement, “With so many of our customers settling into a more long-term work from home situation, Staples is continuously updating our assortment to make sure we carry new, stylish pieces to offer them a total home office solution.”

Lowe’s, Home Depot and Best Buy have similarly cited opportunities to benefit from upgrades to home work environments.

Also seen benefiting from the WFH trend are grocers, as many workers increasingly eat at home rather than using take-out near their offices.

Nestlé SA said last week that its coffee business saw the biggest contributor to organic sales growth last year, boosted by WFH-demand.

“Even when you step away from the pandemic, everyone has learned a flexible work-life pattern, everyone is working from home more,” Nestlé’s CEO Mark Schneider said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

PGA Tour Superstore and Central Garden & Pet Company are among other retailers citing remote working as a trend that is creating a tailwind as people spend more time in their households.

WFH is finally believed to have accelerated the casualization trend to support categories ranging from athleisure to denim and sleepwear. Jerome Griffith, CEO at Lands’ End, said on a quarterly call last year, “As more companies embrace a hybrid in-office work-from-home approach, we expect comfort to remain a priority, driving more casual wear-to-work aesthetic.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Which retail channel do you see gaining from the work from home trend? Do you see WFH as a major opportunity worth marketing around or a minor one?

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Braintrust
"Addressing home office needs is just the tip of the iceberg in how retailers market themselves to customers' new and evolving lifestyles."

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16 Comments on "Retailers have good reason to support customers working from home"


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Katie Thomas
BrainTrust

Strategically speaking, I would consider the hybrid/flexible work environment in marketing messages, rather than the full push of working from home. It’s always good to be thoughtful about “pushing” messages at consumers (“you’re working from home!”) rather than highlighting the simple function (“This is great for a desk!”).

Category-wise, consumers will likely increasingly want more from desk space, in style but also improved functionality (this coming from a person whose computer is sitting on a shoebox still). Beyond grocery, food offerings such as Daily Harvest are poised for success – something consumers have on-hand and can be quicker than other meal prep during the day.

Chris Buecker
BrainTrust

Definitely furnture and CE retail. For me, the ideal combination would be a partnership between IKEA and Best Buy. As a substantial number of employees will remain working from home, this would offer a tremendous opportunity and be definitively worth marketing.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

Retail channels like home decor, outdoor/performance apparel and footwear, and DIY and gardening will continue to profit from the work from home trend. More people are spending time with their families and exploring outdoor activities.

Time spent commuting to the office is being replaced with activities from upgrading homes to new outdoor activities. We are buying hiking gear versus formal suiting.

Comfort categories will expand into dressier options with the flexibility of knit/fleece/jersey fabrics as we are seeing more in-person events but comfort will still be important.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

We’ve always felt that working from home was the real disruptor of the past two years. But due to a plethora of legitimate reasons retailers have been very slow to react, externally that is. We asked 2,700 people if they were going back to work full time and NOT ONE said yes.

The opportunity for retailers is to get closer to where the customer is now, vs. the ’80s idea of “build it and they will come.” Big brands going local like Target (so wisely!), Nordstrom and sure, Amazon are all moving in that direction. The shift for retailers is to get their RE teams out to the neighborhoods looking for opportunities. The idea of the 15 Minute City (look it up!) is not too far off, let’s get going!

Scott Norris
Guest

Ever-increasing residential delivery surcharges from FedEx and UPS also put a finger on the scale in the favor of local retail for a brand’s distribution strategy.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust
Evan Snively
Director of Planning & Loyalty, Moosylvania
5 months 16 days ago

I don’t disagree with your conclusions Lee, but if you surveyed 2,700 people and NONE of them said they were going back into an office full-time, you might want to look at the diversity of your sample audience.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Good point, and in all fairness, we were shooting for center of a Bell Curve, no one who made less that 25 and no one who made more than 200. Still an astounding number; never had a survey where NOT ONE person projected to go back full time — speaks to staffing issues as well.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

It’s kind of surprising that we’re almost two years into the pandemic and Staples is just launching its Work From Home Style Squad. Disruption to our homes started the day everything shut down and consumers needed help right away. Retailers like Wayfair, Amazon, HomeGoods and others stepped up to provide that help.

Staples may be leading the charge to help us settle in further with guidance to remerchandise our home offices for the long run.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust
Office, DIY, and pet could be the three channels that will benefit the most from the jump in time spent working from home. The at-home office may have been a kitchen counter or a small cubby that was fine for the one day a week work from home situation, however when faced with four or five days a week, people want to have a comfortable, aesthetic, and productive environment that will enable their success which will drive continued sales in-office. DIY will also benefit because increased time working from home creates some extra time for workers to address nagging home projects or to be inspired to go after some dream projects to improve their home office or other areas of their home. With a rise in pet adoptions during the pandemic, there was an increase in pet product sales. As pet owners spend more time with their pets and less with co-workers in the work from home environment, they will spend more money on their pets and also gravitate to pet-friendly employers when they do… Read more »
Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

So Staples now has their version of a Genius Bar or Geek Squad. The WFH Style Squad is a great value-adding service for Staples to be adding. Staples was never going to out-perform Apple or Best Buy on the pure electronics front. But by packaging an entire home office suite of products and services, they put themselves firmly in the game. It feels like WFH is a tectonic shift in the relationship between an individual, their family and their job. So addressing home office needs is just the tip of the iceberg in how retailers market themselves to customers’ new and evolving lifestyles.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I do think that working at home could very well draw customer allegiance through the interaction of very well prepared associates. I am a bit challenged on the potential loss of impulse sales and hands-on demonstrations. That being the case, on a rainy day I would love it.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Retailers catering to “home office” furnishings and electronics stand to benefit from what appears to be a permanent trend. The days of “everybody back to the office five days a week” appear to be over, even as COVID-19 cases fall, because the risk of losing your workforce to another, more flexible employer is just too high.

One anecdotal piece of evidence: Of my six 30-something children and their spouses, one works from home full-time, another works from home when not traveling for business, and the others are doing hybrid WFH at least half-time. (This has forced all of them to reinvent their workspaces on a permanent basis, not just to make do with the kitchen table.) It’s not just about better desks and office chairs, but also about tech upgrades like faster Wi-Fi and boosters.

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
5 months 16 days ago

In my industry I’ve seen an increase in products hitting the market to support this trend, such as bedside organizers, tablet pillows, lap desk style pillows, backrests and more. These items are one way to embrace the need to even modify a bed as a new working space as not all customers WFH have the luxury of a separate office. Spaces have to have a dual purpose, and now products and design have to incorporate this new demand as well.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

Remote workers will be a driving force in reshaping our retail industry. The impacts are already being felt in lower fuel sales, meaning convenience stores need better food options to maintain customer traffic. Streetwear and athleisure are experiencing a resurgence as we adopt more comfortable work wear. This also is fueling the renewed importance of brick-and-mortar stores, not only to improve sales margins by defraying delivery costs, but also because remote workers value walking around a store to stretch their legs and refresh their brains. Working from home is also a key force in prompting more retailers to explore small local store formats, shop in shop partnerships and expanded online marketplace options to place themselves closer to the communities where their customers live.

Lucille DeHart
BrainTrust

I see WFH as a necessary market segment. As with all consumer shifts, brands and retailers need to get ahead of these changes. Just like working women, the rise of influencers, casual Fridays and other developments over the decades, work from home is a new normal. We saw this immediately within the real estate market with sales booms for larger, suburban homes during the pandemic. The virtual world is here to stay and includes remote learning, remote working and even remote experiences — having a place to participate in the new non-physical world is critical. Crate and Barrel was an early winner in home office selling, as was IKEA. Retailers need to create a lane to play in that makes sense for their brands. I think fashion could market items like Zoom shirts, and decor/home stores can still get in on this as consumers look for ways to elevate their screen backgrounds. Desk fitness can also become a segment.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Work has become hybrid so new, flexible solutions are needed for every dimension of one’s lifestyle — work space, entertainment, decor, attire, fitness and nutrition. The way we work and live is permanently changed.

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Braintrust
"Addressing home office needs is just the tip of the iceberg in how retailers market themselves to customers' new and evolving lifestyles."

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