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Staples unveils ecommerce innovation plan

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Staples, the office supplies business, is to open a new ecommerce innovation centre in the US as it sets its sights on becoming the world’s leading multichannel business.

Teams at the E-Commerce Innovation Center, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will be responsible for coming up with new ways of buying online aimed at the business customers who buy from Staples websites and stores in 26 countries, including the UK.

Staples.com is recruiting IT, product managers, and usability experts and creatives to jobs in the new centre and on its careers page, it says it is looking to triple its ecommerce staff as it looks to become “the leading multichannel ecommerce company across the globe”.

Boston-based Staples, which says it is already the world’s second largest ecommerce company, is investing in a multichannel customer experience covering touchpoints from mobile devices, desktops and stores. Recent innovations include a new smartphone app.

The new centre will open in May 2012 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city that Brian Tilzer, Staples.com’s vice president for ecommerce and business development, describes as a “hub of innovation, with both world-class universities and technology companies.”

Tilzer added: “Staples new E-Commerce Innovation Center will become the 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 turns over $25bn a year, employs 90,000 worldwide and claims the number one position in the office products market.

Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic, business secretary Vince Cable today announced the launch of another centre. The Technology Strategy Board will back a new Connected Digital Economy Catapult centre with the aim of making it a hub for digital innovation, focused on new technologies such as augmented reality, the challenges of building a sustainable digital media and content business, and at transferring knowledge and experience from the digital industries such as the media and creative sectors to businesses which have not traditionally been active in the digital marketplace, including, it says, retail.

The Government press release illustrated this concept. "For example," it said, "the music industry went through dramatic changes when it embraced digital technologies, it also experienced a great number of challenges particularly around intellectual property. Today businesses are making similar changes in industries such as media and retail which will benefit from the experience the music industry can provide."

Cable said: “Long term investment in our economic strengths and being at the forefront of technological development are essential if we are to achieve sustainable and balanced growth.”

Creative industries minister Ed Vaizey said: 
"The internet has effectively ended any distinction between digital and creative industries. This Catapult centre will help bring together key parts of the UK economy.

“We have world leading, innovative businesses in the ICT, digital and creative sectors which have considerable potential for growth.”

The announcement came at the Shoreditch, London offices of Holition, which provides augmented reality technology to the retail and publishing industries.

Iain Gray, chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board, said: “We are extremely pleased to be supporting such an important technology area with a Catapult centre. With many, if not all, industries searching for ways to utilise digital technology, the opportunity for the Catapult will be enormous. It will also be applicable to all internet-using businesses and industries as they attempt to innovate with digital technology to provide consumers and businesses with new products and services.”

Our view: We're taken by the news that Staples is aiming its sights at becoming the world's leading multichannel retailer with the support of its new innovation centre. Such investment might have been more relevant for the UK, where it seems the success of the UK's fast-growing ecommerce sector has been somewhat overlooked by politicians who believe retailers should learn from the music industry. In the meantime, we'll wait with interest to see what the Connected Digital Economy Catapult centre can offer UK retailers.

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