Office Depot Declutters, Helps Shoppers Find Their Way

Easier-to-Find Items and Helpful Associates Are Key to Latest Marketing Effort

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For Office Depot, the problem wasn't attracting shoppers but converting them to buyers.

A year ago, the retailer set out to address what it viewed as a core issue: Customers in stores had difficulty finding everything they needed and lacked a clear understanding of the breadth of products available. Those were serious failings, especially considering that Office Depot competes with players ranging from Staples to Walmart Stores to Amazon in the highly commoditized office-supplies category.

Tony Stewart (l.) and 'Rachel'
Tony Stewart (l.) and 'Rachel'
In response, Office Depot created the In-Store Customer Experience initiative. Spanning departments from marketing to merchandising to customer service, the effort came to life in two lab stores early last year and is being rolled out in all 1,132 locations. It's supported by the new "It's Depot Time " campaign.

"It's been an amazing transformation to the store experience," said Bob Moore, chief marketing officer for Office Depot. "We're helping customers find what's new, exciting, different and can make their lives easier. We're helping them save time."

In the lab stores, popular products were made more accessible. More navigational signage was added, and fewer words were used on signs in the stores.

"We're making sure we have the right products in the right place," Mr. Moore said. "And from a marketing point of view, we were giving them too much messaging, so we simplified our messaging."

Office Depot is also embracing smaller stores, which it says are more convenient for customers.

The "It's Depot Time " campaign, handled by Zimmerman Advertising, will run throughout 2012 and is getting more investment than past campaigns, Mr. Moore said. TV ads show split screens with business owners (including Nascar's Tony Stewart) asking questions, and "Rachel," a perky Office Depot associate, highlighting ways the retailer can save customers time.

To deliver on the advertising's promise, associates are being trained to ask open-ended questions, such as, "What brings you to Office Depot today?" rather than "yes" or "no" questions that discourage dialogue.

"We had them doing a lot of tasks in terms of store operations that took them away from our customers," Mr. Moore said. "We really empowered them to engage our customers and to have the time to help them through the shopping experience."

TV and radio ads, which highlight the changes but without explicitly saying that anything is different, have begun airing in 12 markets; a national rollout is expected. The campaign will also include digital, print, direct mail and in-store executions. And for the first time, Office Depot will run Spanish-language TV and radio ads, also handled by Zimmerman.

Early results from Advertising Benchmark Index, which measures ads' effectiveness across all media channels, indicate that the campaign is resonating. According to ABX, the "It's Depot Time " TV ads are scoring higher than recent ads from both Staples and OfficeMax. The data show that the ads are changing perceptions of Office Depot's reputation for the better, as well as providing a strong call to action.

The radio ad didn't do well, though, with listeners indicating that they disliked it and did not want to hear it again.

Though the campaign and emphasis on the store experience are steps in the right direction, analysts remain skeptical about Office Depot's long-term prospects. The company reported third-quarter sales of $2.8 billion, down 2% from a year earlier.

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