Staples Becoming More Mature with B-T-S Marketing

Aug 10, 2006

By George Anderson

For years, Staples has focused its back-to-school (b-t-s) selling on grade school kids and their parents. The company’s newest initiative is “like so mature” as the office supplies retailer is looking to capture a greater share of teenagers’ b-t-s expenditures.

This year, Staples has introduced 150 items targeted to teenagers, such as a zebra-striped PC mouse.

Petter Knutrud, Staples’ vice president and general merchandising manager, told The Boston Globe, “We recognized that the needs for the teen customer have been somewhat overlooked. There’s not one place they can get fashion and organization.”

Capturing a greater share of teens b-t-s spending is critical based on statistics that show kids ages 15 to 17 spend an average of $76 on school supplies. Also, 47 percent of parents say it is the teens who decide where to shop for b-t-s supplies.

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group, said Staples is on the right track.

“Marketing to teens allows Staples to sell a much wider selection of products, instead of basic supplies,” he said. “They can start selling some really cool things in a sexy way. They’re trying to go out of their way to say to teens, ‘This is the place to go.’ “

Staples made sure to do its own research before launching its teen program. One thing the company found was teens were looking for better backpacks with pockets that would hold an iPod, laptop computer, water bottles, etc.

For this b-t-s season, Staples doubled the number of backpacks it sells (156 styles) and expanded the number of items it sells in the higher end of the category ($60 +).

Staples also came out with its own line of student planners and items for locker use such as the LockerMate Locker Trio Bag that can store cellphones or iPods and also comes with a mirror and dry-erase board.

Teresa Herd, Staple’s creative director, said fashion played a prominent role in the items the chain chose to sell.

“This year we selected hot pink, chartreuse green, and a brown, and when we did that we got a little bit of resistance from some people who were saying, ‘I would never put brown with green. My mother would kill me if I wore pink with brown.’ But it goes back to our target audience, which this year is parents of teens and teens. And they’re a little bit different.”

Discussion Questions: Is Staples doing the right things to attract teenage consumers to buy for the back-to-school season? How well will the strategy
work in light of the fact that discounters continue to dominate the selling season?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

2 Comments on "Staples Becoming More Mature with B-T-S Marketing"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Lilien
15 years 9 months ago

Staples is one of the best managed retailers. Their stock price is the same as a year ago, but it’s 20% more than 2 years ago and more than double what it was 5 years ago. So Staples needs to achieve above-average comp sales increases. One great way to get sales increases: approach a previously underserved major market.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 9 months ago

If the kids choose where they’ll shop for b-t-s, and Staples creates the appropriate buzz, the discounters will be overmatched. (Unless, of course, the discounters offer the same stuff and create their own buzz.)

How do retailers reach teens today? Certainly not in the newspaper, and TV opportunities are splintered by cable and satellite services. I look for Staples to exploit the internet this season on teen-centric sites like and various game sites, and to be highly visible in teen magazines. They should also initiate a viral marketing effort featuring Instant Messaging and pedestrian old email. Where do teens hang out during the summer? Staples needs to be there. If Staples has it, they need to flaunt it.


Take Our Instant Poll

What factor most influences where a teen shops for back-to-school supplies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...