Staples replatformed in half the time, for half the cost, on its way to record sales
Replatforming and upgrades, Speed to launch, Cost effectiveness
Staples was in a time of new beginnings. In 2017, as part of its acquisition by a private equity firm, the famed office supply chain was split into three arms. Among them was Staples Canada, which would be independently managed and operated from its American parent.
What that meant was that Staples could begin to rethink the way things had always been done. Among the most pressing considerations for its leadership was a new commerce partner, a platform that was less money, more flexible, and offered the right kind of upmarket infrastructure to evolve as even a retailer this large was still growing. With Shopify Plus, Staples has found:
- The ability to run 4X more online sales promotions per day
- All-time sales records during Black Friday Cyber Monday
- No performance issues during COVID-19 as “Black Friday-like” sales levels arrived for 30 days straight
In late 2018, across what would eventually reach more than 300 stores across Canada, Staples began to unveil its new logo and slogan—“Work. Learn. Grow.” It signalled a new era for retail, a reimagining of what shoppers had come to expect of Staples, including the incorporation of co-working spaces, more finely curated product selection, and a crisper, cleaner ambience.
Its ecommerce needed to be similarly reborn. For years, Staples had been dissatisfied with a bulky, complex, custom platform that required large internal personnel to manage and often failed when shopping volume peaked. A new corporate structuring, where Staples could retool its own strategy, was an opportunity to redefine itself online.
Staples’ tech leadership identified the features and considerations its new platform must have. They included:
Flexibility: Staples once could only deploy major changes or new promotions once a day—at night, when the entire site had to come down to update. No more.
Site stability: Busy shopping seasons like Black Friday Cyber Monday—and, especially for Staples, back to school—needed to be times when the company was no longer consumed by managing capacity or the threat of servers going down.
Upmarket infrastructure: Staples required access to an app ecosystem that could effectively manage a host of systems and features that an enterprise of its size requires, such as order management, search, reviews, email, store locators, and a custom checkout. Replatform time: Staples couldn’t wait forever. It wished to be up and running in less than 12 months.
Cost: Its new site had to support one of the nation’s largest retailers. But it shouldn’t also come with a price tag companies of its size were used to paying. Staples preferred to redirect many of the resources it had been spending on its ecommerce platform into ways it could improve customer experience.
We were having issues with basic things—running promotions, updating basic tools like checkout and search and payments. We really fell behind from a table stakes perspective.Andy LeeSenior Director, Digital Product Management, Staples Canada
Staples chose to migrate to Shopify Plus. “It fit in with everything we were trying to do as a company,” Lee says.
The clock soon began on a major replatforming. Certainly, there was size to account for, consideration paid to migrating Staples’ huge catalog of product and customer data. But Shopify Plus had to also integrate completely into Staples’ enterprise resource planning system that lay at the heart of both its retail and online operations. “Shopify Plus allowed us to do that in half the time that any other player would have,” Lee says.
Less than 12 months after it began, by early summer 2019, Staples’ new site was live. The next greatest test was to prove the platform would be as flexible as promised. As the holidays approached, Lee found a new reality when it came to scheduling promotions and sales. Where once Staples could only schedule new site promotions the night before during Black Friday Cyber Monday, it was now free to update or cycle through sales campaigns as many times per day, in real-time, as his team wished.
Lee found Staples could move faster still. One morning in Mar. 2020., as the first wave of COVID-19 repercussions hit the global retail economy, Apple announced all its stores worldwide would close. At 9:30 a.m., Lee discussed the news internally with his team. Within an hour, Staples’ main hero website campaign featured a promotion on MacBooks.
Not long after, Staples leaned into the flexibility of Shopify Plus to change its banners, pages, purchase flows, and customer email communications to launch click and collect for shoppers to buy online and grab items by the curb outside the Staples closest to them. In less than 72 hours, Staples rolled out the program across all its Canadian stores.
Typically, enterprises of our size will choose Salesforce or Oracle or SAP Hybris. We evaluated all the big players. They would’ve taken in excess of 24 months to replatform a site of our complexity. We were able to do it in under 12 months with Shopify Plus—at less than half the cost.Andy LeeSenior Director, Digital Product Management, Staples Canada
Lee sat rapt at his desk during his first Black Friday Cyber Monday after replatforming. In previous years, he might have readied himself to protect against site crashes, armed with an urgent service ticket request to send to Staples’ technical support.
But during the 2019 holidays, he says, “we didn’t miss a beat.” No matter that Staples was now cycling through more than four-times the website promotions it once did over Black Friday Cyber Monday, its site held, and allowed a new freedom for the company to focus once-claimed resources elsewhere.
“We saw the traffic come in, but we saw no degradation of performance,” Lee says. “Couple that with the fact that Shopify Plus is a cloud system, so there’s largely nothing for us to manage. That’s even better. We’re not consumed by servers going down or managing capacity anymore. We can focus our team’s efforts into really paying attention to the customer experience.”
Staples’ Black Friday Cyber Monday sales, according to the company, set an all-time record. Its other big sales events, such as back to school and Christmas, were all up from the previous year, too.
The company’s greatest demand came as COVID-19 forced a new reality onto shoppers. Over 30 days spanning Mar.-Apr. 2020, Staples’ traffic, transactions, and site revenue increased in excess of 100% over the month that came before.
“We’ve experienced Black Friday-like levels on the website every day for the past 30 days,” Lee says. “We’ve never had a consecutive run for that extended period of time ever. We’re extremely proud that our platform has been able to scale to unprecedented demand seamlessly. Uptime on the site has been at virtually 100% with no degradation of performance at a time when our customers need it most.”
We view Shopify Plus as a partnership. We felt the relationship was the strongest it would be out of any player that we could have chosen. We understood that the platform is continually going to get better. At the end of the day, performance and everything aside, we feel like we’re in this together.Andy LeeSenior Director, Digital Product Management, Staples Canada