business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Normally, I like to use this Eye-Opener space to talk about interesting, progressive business ideas - emphasizing, whenever possible, the positive.

But sometimes I read something that just demonstrates how some companies may not get it, and it illustrates problems that may exist for other companies.

In this case, the company is Staples.

RIS News reports that the company is testing a voice-enabled Easy Button system that it hopes will "further differentiate Staples from the competition."

"Our new voice-enabled Easy Button reordering system integrates IBM Watson’s cognitive platform to simplify office product management for our SBA (Staples Business Advantage) customers," CEO Shira Goodman said at a conference recently. "The Easy Button will enable customers to quickly reorder supplies, track shipments or chat about their needs."

Now, I think innovation is important. I love the idea of voice-enabled systems, and have often waxed rhapsodic here about the Echo/Alexa system created by Amazon. This is all great stuff, and I think that anything Staples can do to make itself a go-to option for customers is a good thing.

But.

As I've mentioned previously on MNB, one of the things I had to do over the holidays was move into a new office after almost 18 years in one space. For reasons too complicated to detail here, my desk chair broke and I needed a new one.

So I decided to go the bricks-and-mortar route. I went up to the Staples in Norwalk, Connecticut, where, as it happened, they were running a sale.

While there, I spent a half-hour in the chair department trying to get someone to help me. I asked the folks at the front counter to send someone back to the chair department, and they kept promising, and not delivering. I stuck around, partly because I needed a chair and partly because I knew I'd get a column out of it.

Thirty minutes later, someone finally, grudgingly helped me. I bought a chair, and then asked them to build it for me. (I wouldn't want to sit on anything I built. Not in my skill set. And I was willing to pay the small building fee.)

They agreed. It'd be ready in 48 hours. Fine. And then, when I returned to pick up my chair, it took another 30 minutes - no exaggeration - to get someone to go in the back room and find the chair.

Maybe the store was understaffed. (It certainly wasn't crowded.) Maybe the employees simply were incompetent.

But there was nothing easy about my Staples experience.

They can build innovative, voice-enabled systems until the cows come home. But I seriously doubt their ability to build and deliver the big stuff if they can't handle the small stuff.

It was an Eye-Opening experience.

Next time, I'll go to Amazon. (Which are, by the way, six words that no retailer ever should want to hear.)
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