It’s no surprise that 2018 was a year of continued online growth for the U.S. office supplies industry; while brick-and-mortar retail sales were relatively flat, the e-commerce channel grew double digits compared to 2017.1 E-commerce has transformed the way consumers browse, compare, and purchase products, and this behavior continues to evolve. As a result, we expect the online channel will bring even more opportunities and changes to the office supplies space in 2019.
While online retail giants have benefitted from these advancements, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers and smaller e-commerce players have also started to claim their piece of the pie. With the proliferation of using social media to sell direct-to-consumer, retailers, manufacturers, and small businesses alike are finding new ways to ensure they remain relevant and top-of-mind for consumers during this evolution.
Online mediums including Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube have emerged as both search and shopping platforms. Pinterest and Instagram allow users, including business accounts and influencers, to add a ‘click-to-buy’ shopping option on posts and stories. Additionally, many influencers leverage YouTube to promote products and link to them in the video description. Intertwined is the fact that mobile usage as a method of online shopping is growing among consumers. In fact, during the 2018 holiday shopping season, NPD found that the percentage of online shoppers using their laptop declined, while smartphone usage increased compared to 2017. Almost 4 in 10 Millennials, in particular, use their smartphone most often when shopping online.2 The office supplies industry needs to be paying attention to, and acting upon, these developments in online and mobile shopping.
Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers will also continue to innovate during this evolution, with options like “Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store,” which accounted for 3 percent of total retail online purchases in 2018 according to NPD’s Checkout.3 Though this figure may seem small, the trend is still in its prime and likely to continue as consumer awareness increases, and as more retailers roll out this service.
To drive growth, the office supplies industry needs to evolve along with retail as consumers transition to these new trends including “Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store” and mobile purchasing.
1Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, Dollar Sales, 52 weeks ending December 29, 2018
2Source: The NPD Group/ Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey 2018
3Excludes Foodservice, Mobile apps, and Grocery