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Office Supplies Market Research & Business Solutions

Pens, planners, pencils, pushpins, paper, paint, plus dozens of other things that don’t start with the letter “p.” If it’s sold at an office supply store, we know about it.

Companies monitor their competition and examine which brands and products are selling with our point-of-sale (POS) office supplies market research. With detail at the category, brand, item, and product attribute levels, we give manufacturers, retailers, and financial analysts a better read on what’s happening in the market. Our data reflects actual sales reported by all major channels representing 95% of the retail market in the U.S.

Our office supplies market research helps companies make more informed product development and marketing decisions and deliver effective client sales presentations.

In addition, we combine NPD’s pervasive retail footprint with Nielsen’s analytics solutions to enable clients to optimize marketing programs, including marketing mix analysis.

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Office Supplies

Retail Tracking

Unmatched point-of-sale information enabling you to understand market dynamics, partner with retailers, and identify opportunities for growth. We recently added additional retailers to substantially grow our POS footprint, increasing market visibility and providing the most complete and accurate view of the market available. Our Weekly Retail tracking provides the ability to monitor product launches, promotions, and seasonal sales cycles, especially when fast market response is required. Covering more than 50 office-supplies categories, this service delivers more frequent and more granular insight about what’s happening at the category, subcategory, brand, and model levels.

Store-Level Enabled Retail Tracking

Store-Level Enabled Retail Tracking complements our national Retail Tracking Service– it can help you determine whether sales are distribution-driven or whether certain parts of the country are contributing more to national share or driving growth.
The velocity measure set that is part of Store-Level Enabled Retail Tracking takes into consideration sales volume (Annualized Industry Volume or AIV) rather than considering store count alone, for a more meaningful read on where products are selling and how they are performing.

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Account Level Reports

These reports give retailers and their approved vendors one data set to guide business decision-making and improve results.  Vendors approved by a retailer to purchase their reports will have access to the same data in the same tool and format that the retailer receives, providing the visibility to truly partner with the retailer to drive growth.

Back-to-School Monitor

Answer your critical marketing questions during and after the back-to-school season so you can quickly adjust selling strategies and marketing promotions to capitalize on what consumers are reporting. The Back-to-School Monitor’s data and analysis are based on an online survey fielded weekly from July to September. The study focuses on tracking consumers’ shopping and buying dynamics to deliver insights on the total office and school supplies market, key consumer groups’ shopping behaviors, channel and retailer shifts, influence of school lists in shopping, and how school supplies fit in with other back-to-school purchasing.


Checkout is the gold standard consumer receipt panel for tracking and analyzing consumer behavior across general merchandise and foodservice. We offer the most robust e-commerce data plus tailored analytics to help you keep current customers and win new ones. 

Analytic Solutions

NPD’s Analytic Solutions group includes senior leaders with extensive experience developing and delivering analytic solutions that help clients predict areas of risk and growth to improve marketing and product development. By combining NPD’s unique data assets and industry expertise with state-of-the-discipline research techniques and proprietary solutions, our Analytic Solutions team is able to answer clients’ most pressing business questions.

Office Supplies

Back-to-School Spend Report

Explore the latest industry trends and shopper insights with the Back-to-School Spend Report. Uncover emerging trends and capitalize on them for your back-to-school planning.

Office Supplies
Press Releases

June 26, 2018

Bullet Journaling Trend Lifts Sales of Notebooks and Writing Instruments, Reports NPD

Following adult coloring and slime-making, bullet journaling is one today’s latest crazes in creative expression, and it’s boosting sales of traditional supplies. There’s also a budding online market, with women making two-thirds of bullet journal purchases, according to NPD’s Checkout.

March 5, 2018

Hand Cleaner Sales Rise in the U.S. During Flu Season, Reports NPD Group

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this flu season to be the worst in a decade. As the virus spread across the entire country, sales of hand cleaners, particularly sanitizer and wipes, have also gone viral, according to global information company The NPD Group.

October 18, 2017

September was the Tipping Point for Traditional Supplies Sales this Back-to-School Season

Sales of traditional supplies for the 2017 back-to-school season amounted to $4.2 billion in the U.S., a 1 percent increase over 2016*, according to global information company The NPD Group. With more dollars being spent in the latter part of the season, September was the catalyst of growth, as it drove sales for the entire season through September 23.

July 24, 2017

Pre-Packaged School Supply Kits Prove to be a Popular Option for U.S. Consumers Fulfilling Back-to-School Lists

Some U.S. consumers opt for eliminating the shopping when it comes to buying school supplies

July 10, 2017

The NPD Group Names Tia Frapolli as President of U.S. Office Supplies Practice

Global information company, The NPD Group, has named Tia Frapolli president for the firm’s Office Supplies business. Tia will report to Perry James, who continues to lead the firm’s U.S. Hardlines Sector, including Automotive, Home, and Office Supplies.

April 10, 2017

Coloring and Craft-Related Products Experience Double-Digit Sales Growth Ahead of Easter

The latest trends around creative expression, from slime and “floam” to coloring and crafts, are driving U.S. sales of office supplies ahead of Easter, according to global information company The NPD Group. The double-digit sales growth seen across coloring and art related categories suggests that a different wave of items may be joining the chocolate bunnies and stuffed animals in Easter baskets this year.

February 14, 2017

Rise in Online Sales Drives U.S. Office Supplies Industry in 2016, Though Growth Rate Slows

Total retail sales for the U.S. office and school supplies industry grew 1 percent in 2016 to $12.1 billion*, with e-commerce the thrust behind the growth, according to global information company The NPD Group. Brick-and-mortar sales remained flat though the channel accounted for 89 percent of the total industry, while online sales grew 12 percent for the year; however, the online growth rate has slowed compared to previous years.

October 14, 2016

Going Green: Over Half of Office Supplies Purchasers Buy Environmentally Friendly Products, The NPD Group Finds

With growing concerns about the environment, office supplies are no exception to the consumer drive for products that promise wellness and sustainability. More than half of small office and home office consumers buy environmentally friendly office supply products, according to Understanding the Small and Home Office Consumer, the latest report from global information company The NPD Group. That number increases to 76 percent among those purchasing for an office of 31-50 employees, who have a larger carbon footprint.

October 11, 2016

Consumers Shift More of their Back-to-School Supplies Spend Online and Purchase Later in the Season, NPD Group Reports

Shopping in stores remains the preferred method of purchasing traditional supplies during the back-to-school season, accounting for 92 percent of sales this year; however, more dollar spend is shifting online, according to global information company The NPD Group.

June 28, 2016

NPD Highlights: Back-to-School 2016 Shopping Predictions and Influencers in Traditional Supplies

The back-to-school season is a crucial time for the traditional supplies industry, accounting for 35 percent of the $11.8 billion in yearly sales and nearly half of unit sales in the U.S.*, according to global information company The NPD Group. While the season’s importance to the industry is consistently high, at the same time how and where consumers shop, combined with other influencers from teachers to online shopping, is shaking up the industry.

Office Supplies

November 14, 2018

Back-to-School Class of 2018: The Results Are In!

Explore 2018 back-to-school insights and get a look at overall trends, hot categories, and sales results for school supplies.

November 1, 2018

5 Things Smart Industries Are Doing to Engage Consumers

In this paper, released at Summer Outdoor Retailer, NPD's Industry Advisor Matt Powell looks to growing industries' strategies to fuel the outdoor sports market.

October 17, 2018

E-commerce Trends You Can't Ignore

The emergence of the endless aisle has created stiff competition for brands and retailers trying to win online. Uncover the latest e-commerce trends across fashion, home, and technology. Read on to see how successful brands and retailers are winning by leveraging digital content to engage with consumers.

September 21, 2018

Back-to-School 2018: July Results

The 2018 back-to-school season is in full swing in the U.S. To make the most of it this year, it’s important to understand shopping behavior across all retail channels.

August 23, 2018

Today’s Bullet Journal Craze

Creative trends such as adult coloring and slime-making took the U.S. office supplies industry by storm in recent years.

August 8, 2018

3 Ways Back-to-School Shopping is Changing

Ordering everyday goods online and having them delivered to the doorstep has become the norm in many American households. E-commerce sales growth shows how this new normal is playing out, but how will convenience-based purchasing methods affect back-to-school shopping for traditional supplies?

August 3, 2018

3 Ways to Foster a Seamless Consumer Experience in the Future

In the future, brands and retailers will adapt to increased consumer demand for more seamless experiences. See how this will impact every aspect of their lives—from the kitchen to the gym.

March 9, 2018

How New Product Forecasting Helped a Manufacturer Launch a New Cutting Tool

A major cutting tools manufacturer wanted to launch a new cutting tool that would set it apart from competitors, but the manufacturer needed to get a handle on the likelihood of success in its category. New product forecasting revealed the answers.

January 19, 2018

Matt Powell Talks Sports With Millennials – What Gets Millennials Into Stores?

The changing shopping tastes of the younger generation are implicated in the closing of hundreds of stores and are leading them to mostly shop online. But, what can retailers do to change this habit and get this age group to shop in stores? Watch this video to hear what some Millennials had to say.

October 19, 2017

Back-to-School 2017 by the Numbers

The back-to-school season now includes more options for the consumer than ever before. We took a look at how U.S. consumers shopped for back-to-school products in 2017 to help you plan for the 2018 season.

Office Supplies
Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts

January 31, 2019

The E-Commerce Effect

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

November 29, 2018

A Creativity-Inspired Holiday Season

The holiday season presents consumers with a perfect opportunity to get in touch with their creative side – a behavior that bodes well for the U.S. office supplies market. Several arts, crafts, and traditional supplies categories that require creativity and offer an experience will be among the top industry performers this holiday. And, we know from NPD’s Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey that experiential gifting is not only trending with consumers, but set to grow over last year. In fact, the survey found that four out of 10 consumers plan on giving these types of gifts this year. 

When it comes to the craft-related categories, consumer shopping behavior indicates a preference for discovering and purchasing these products in-person as opposed to online. Specifically, NPD data shows that acrylic paints, paint brushes, specialty notecards, and canvases all have a very low penetration in the e-commerce channel. In fact, over 95 percent of purchases in each of these categories are made in-store. 

Tied to such products, we expect that popular holiday craft activities will include ornament decorating and homemade holiday décor. In addition, as spending time with friends and family is top of mind during the holidays, we expect the ever-popular canvas painting parties to continue to grow this season, and there are the sales numbers to show for it—canvas sales have grown by 20 percent over the past year.* Coinciding with the maker’s movement and popularity of hand lettering, this season we also expect to see a rise in holiday card making with custom lettering. A variety of writing instruments used for this activity are already seeing growth; collectively, sales of gel, porous, and fountain pens as well as dual, ultra, and extra fine color markers have grown by 8 percent leading up to the holiday season.**

Without a doubt, consumers let their creativity shine during the holiday season, and this presents a favorable opportunity for the office supplies industry to get in on the action.  

*Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, 52 weeks ending October 6, 2018 vs. last year

**Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, 13 weeks ending October 6, 2018 vs. last year

August 30, 2018

An Eco-Friendly Back-to-School

As a society, we’ve been hearing, reading, and thinking more and more about sustainability these days. Spearheaded by the Millennial generation, U.S. consumers are growing increasingly environmentally conscious, and are demanding transparency from brands and manufacturers when it comes to product production, materials, and ingredients. At NPD we’ve been talking a lot about sustainability across our industries, from apparel to sports and the outdoor market, and its presence in the office supplies space is no exception.

In office supplies, the market for products made from recycled materials is growing. With back-to-school on the brain, NPD data shows that school-related categories have experienced sales growth in products with recycled materials during the first six weeks of the back-to-school season; notably, loose filler paper notebooks with a 12 percent increase.* Dated products, including appointment books and calendars, is the largest category with 21 percent of the items sold in this group containing recycled materials.** 

According to a poll conducted by next generation polling and data mining company CivicScience, 31 percent of U.S. adults (age 25-64) report that sustainable materials is an important factor when determining what to purchase during back-to-school, with women over-indexing at 34 percent. Looking at the generational breakdown, the importance of such materials is most prominent among 25-34 and 35-44 year olds. 

As consumers look towards sustainable alternatives to traditional paper, reusable notebooks such as the Rocketbook, which is essentially a digital notebook that still provides users with a traditional “pen to paper” writing experience, as well as dry erase boards have become popular options. In fact, dry erase board sales grew by 8 percent in the first six weeks of the season.*

The sustainability movement continues to gain momentum, and the office supplies industry must carve out ways to support these eco-friendly values through their product development and brand messaging. This presents an important opportunity for revenue and innovation within the office supplies space.

*Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, 6 weeks ending August 4, 2018

**Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, 52 weeks ending July 7, 2018

July 18, 2018

The Changing Face of Back-to-School Shopping

Ordering everyday goods online and having them delivered to your doorstep has become a norm in many American households. While e-commerce sales growth illustrates this new norm, how will these convenience-based purchasing methods play a role in back-to-school shopping for traditional supplies? 

According to NPD U.S. retail sales data, e-commerce dollar spend on office and school supplies during the 2017 back-to-school season increased by $56.4 million over the prior year. With the continued growth of online ordering and retailer-specific back-to-school programs, this number will likely continue along its positive trajectory this year. The first week of 2018 back-to-school sales supports this expectation, as brick-and-mortar sales declined $1.3 million and e-commerce sales grew $1.1 million in the week ending June 30.

Many big-box retailers have bolstered their online presence by introducing express shipping for online orders and in-store pickup options. Several have provided the convenient option of accessing school lists online that are created by teachers across the nation. Parents are able to look up their child’s school to find their customized list and select “Add to Cart” for a hassle-free shopping experience.

In the spirit of Amazon Prime Day, what impact may we anticipate the e-commerce giant to have on the back-to-school season? Amazon now boasts over 100 million Prime members, as reported by Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos in April 2018. Back-to-school shoppers will likely turn to Amazon for deals and promotions, and the convenience of saving time. Over half of Amazon Prime members are Millennials, a generation that makes up more than one-quarter of the U.S. population. A portion of Millennials are stepping into the role of “back-to-school shopper” for their young children, and expect the convenient shopping experiences of which they are accustomed.

A challenge that retailers may face in this new era of back-to-school shopping is striking the balance between delivering convenience to Millennial parents, while still providing unique offerings to Gen Z students. In NPD’s whitepaper, “A Guide to Gen Z: Debunking the Myths of Our Youngest Generation,” which offers insights into how Gen Z differs from other generations, NPD’s Food industry advisor David Portalatin says that Gen Z consumers “view themselves as a brand and curate, post, and own brands that help tell the story of who they are. They don’t look to brands for status, exclusivity, or a guarantee of quality. They use brands to create identity.”

It is necessary for the office supplies industry to understand and take action to address the channel as well as generational shifts happening in today’s competitive retail landscape. With click capturing share from brick, Millennial parents stepping in as the next generation of “back-to-school shoppers,” and Gen Z our future, the impact of these shifts will only grow more prevalent over time.

March 28, 2018

A Digital Detox

In today’s Digital Age, the U.S. Census Bureau found that nearly 80 percent of Americans own a laptop or computer, and 75 percent own a smartphone. We have many technologies and devices at our disposal; however, many of us turn toward various activities and products to cleanse ourselves from the ‘digital stare.’ It’s often difficult to disconnect and unplug ourselves from digital tasks, but there’s a shift happening that’s moving us away from purely living and breathing digital.                

“Digital detox” was a prominent theme at the 2018 Paperworld conference in Frankfurt, Germany, last month. Office trends reflecting technology, while present, moved into the background. Instead of a computer or laptop being the focal point of the desk, it was notebooks, folders, and file storage stealing the spotlight, in favor of a more calming design. This not only portrays consumers’ desire to do more of their work through raw, tangible mediums, but also the importance of focusing on “mindfulness” in the office. Some companies are innovating by transforming their offices to provide spaces for quiet time, collaborative work, private spaces for relaxation and thought, mood rooms, and creative spaces. For many offices, this transformation requires a wide variety of new architecture, furniture, and themes. However, the time and investment is not just for aesthetics; many believe that these future office concepts increase employee productivity, happiness, and overall well-being.

Another way consumers are reducing their digital usage is by getting back to basics and using pens and planners to schedule their daily routines instead of their smart devices. According to NPD data, sales of appointment and planner books/organizers have grown by nearly $10 million year over year*. While planners were very popular at Paperworld 2018, notebooks, pens, and unique writing instruments like calligraphy and brush-tip markers, were prevalent as well. Trends such as bullet journaling and hand lettering are growing, which is also reflective of the digital detox.  

Digital detox embodies a shift towards relaxed environments with less emphasis placed on technology. Using notebooks instead of a laptop during a meeting, or scheduling daily tasks in a paper planner, are ways consumers are able to change their oftentimes monotonous, digital-filled days. While technology will most likely always be an integral part of modern society and the working world, there are many concepts that are becoming commonplace that ease the overwhelming digital presence in our day-to-day routines.

*Source: The NPD Group/ U.S. Retail Tracking Service, 52 weeks ending February 3, 2018 versus same weeks in 2017

December 6, 2017

Consumers Get Crafty this Holiday Season

The U.S. office supplies industry is no exception to the shopping trends emerging this holiday season, as there are several products trending for holiday crafting, gift giving, and home décor. Do-it-yourself holiday crafts and activities are prevalent on social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram, which are great sources of inspiration for consumers in the holiday spirit.

Decorating trees with holiday ornaments has evolved into a family crafting opportunity, with ornament decorating and painting becoming more popular with consumers. Paintbrush pens, which are an essential tool for ornament decorating, grew sales by over $1 million during Holiday 2016* from the previous year. The ornament decorating trend has prevailed on holiday blogs this season, and paintbrush pen sales have grown by over 60 percent in the four weeks ending October 28, 2017.**

Wrapping gifts in attractive paper has been popular for centuries; however, with the popularity of home crafts and washi tape, gift wrapping has been taken to a new level. Several trends are emerging with washi tape, such as Christmas tree wall art, homemade holiday greeting cards, and décor. Washi tape sales grew by $2.8 million during the 2016 holiday season, and continue to grow, showing a positive trend for Holiday 2017.

While crafts and décor are necessary during the holidays, the gifts themselves are still at the top of many consumers’ lists. Planners, small notebooks, and journals appear on holiday gift guides across the Internet, and are sure to be a classic gift this season. Small notebooks and journals added $3.7 million in sales to the office supplies industry during Holiday 2016, and have already shown 35 percent growth heading into the holiday season this year. Additionally, appointment books and planners grew by nearly $6 million last year, and are showing double-digit growth heading into this holiday.

Consumers are showing their creativity during the holiday season and engaging with products in fun and whimsical ways. Many of the more recent trends that have moved the needle for the office supplies industry were sparked by social media, making it a strategic platform that retailers and manufacturers should utilize to build brand and product awareness – both during and outside the holiday season.

*Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, 3 months ending January 2017 vs. prior year
**Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service, 4 weeks ending October 28, 2017 vs. prior year

March 15, 2017

Women’s Movement Impacts Spending on Office Supplies

Setting political views aside, the women’s movement has positively influenced the sales of office supplies.

Demonstrations during the Women’s March took place in over 600 cities around the world. To communicate their thoughts and emotions, those participating in the march came with a variety of signs. Most signs were homemade, which showed that their makers clearly put a lot of work into creating them. The week before the Women’s March, sales of poster boards in the U.S. were up 33 percent and foam boards by 42 percent versus the same week last year, according to retail sales data from The NPD Group. Over 6.5 million poster boards were sold during the month of January, with nearly one-third being sold during the week of the Women’s March. Sales of easel pads/flip charts also grew, by 28 percent. Tools used to assist in making the poster messages stand out also grew during that week, including paint markers (+35 percent), specialty markers (+24 percent), and permanent markers (+12 percent). Poster makers also included images and letters on their posters using craft tools such as glue (+27 percent), adhesives (+12 percent), scissors (+6 percent), and paper punches (+4 percent). In addition to holding their posters, some wore t-shirts with personalized messaging; fabric paint sales the week before the march were up at least three-times as much compared to the other weeks in January.

More events have taken place since the January march, and there is discussion that similar events are planned for the future, presenting an opportunity for retailers and manufacturers to monitor and prepare for product demand in larger cities where they typically occur. Regardless of personal views on the current political climate, consumers’ demand for products that allow them to creatively express themselves represents an opportunity for incremental sales.


Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Weekly Retail Tracking Service

February 8, 2017

Things are About to Get Pretty Sticky

Each year, a new trend sweeps the hallways of schools across the United States. We’ve seen coloring, rubber band bracelets, boondoggle, and many more in recent years. This year the hashtag “#Slime” is nearing two million posts on Instagram. What this can be attributed to isn’t clear. What is clear is that slime is making a comeback; and consumers, who are mainly students, are making it from scratch at home. The at-home slime recipe calls for one bottle of glue, shaving cream, borax, water, and food coloring.

For those who might be unsure as to what slime is, it’s a moist, soft, and slippery substance which may have formerly been looked at with disgust. That’s changing. Some Instagram videos feature slime being kneaded with the hashtag “#oddlysatisfying,” promoting relaxation through the visual. More importantly, students are embracing slime and bringing their homemade slime with them to school.

Students have always found ways to create homemade projects and bring these to school to exchange, gift, and even sell to each other. Thanks in part to this latest trend, glue sales are up 4 percent for the latest 26 weeks*. With parents and students heading to the store to purchase slime ingredients, 70 percent of glue growth is stemming from brick-and-mortar stores.  Sales of school glue, the main slime ingredient, are up over $3 million versus the prior year. And with students making slime in various colors, including glittery slime, it’s no wonder glitter glue is up 12 percent for the same time period.

So far, U.S. regions seeing the highest rate of growth include the East and West South Central census divisions**. The slime trend is oozing its way into schools throughout the nation and worldwide, and as more parents receive requests for the five key ingredients, retailers want to make sure they not only have these, and other slime enhancing supplies, stocked, but are staying up to date on the latest fads that can move sales in the school and office supplies space.


*Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Weekly Retail Tracking Service, 26 weeks ending December 2016
**Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Weekly Store-Level Retail Tracking Service, 26 weeks ending December 2016

December 19, 2016

Why the Small Business Customer is Important, and How Retailers Should Respond

Outside of the back-to-school season and throughout the holidays, the focus for the office supplies industry shifts to the small business and home office consumer. This consumer segment is gaining share at retail and is critical to the overall success of the industry. At NPD, we recently uncovered what makes these consumers tick, and how retailers are responding to more effectively compete and attract their business.

According to The NPD Group’s recent study, “Understanding the Small Office/Home Office Consumer,” two-thirds of small business and home office consumers report purchasing supplies at least once a month or more. This reinforces the fact that, although advances in technology are paving the way for new office solutions such as cloud-based storage, electronic data filing, document cameras, and digital boards, consumers will always need and use traditional supplies.

At the same time, vendors and manufacturers of office supplies must also understand the full scope of the needs of the small business and home office consumer. Simply providing the supplies is no longer enough to maintain a competitive edge in today’s retail environment. At retail, the emphasis has shifted to offering a holistic solution for the customer buying supplies.

Here are three ways retailers are adapting and changing in order to more effectively compete and grow their share of the small business and home office consumer:

Providing High Value Services
Approximately half of small business and home office consumers indicate that having in-store experts is “extremely to very important” to their in-store experience. It’s important to remember that this service isn’t limited to the physical store; experts can be made available through text, phone, or video chat. Advances in artificial intelligence are also helping to provide quick solutions and satisfy the needs of this important consumer. Other valuable services that retailers are providing include promotional or logo printing, solutions centers, and co-working environments, and these are increasingly being made available online to increase the level of customization for the customer Services which small business customers find lacking are related to speed of shipments and an incentive model that rewards long-time customers. Retailers should explore ways to capitalize on these opportunities.   

Having an Office Solutions Perspective
At retail, simply offering a great product is no longer enough; it’s about providing consumers with an experience that they’ll remember and want to repeat. The small business and home office consumer is not just looking to buy a pen or notebook – she is looking for solutions that will help to optimize the whole office, from writing to sanitation and breakroom needs, and at a sensible price. Consumers also want to be able to find these solutions across purchase channels.

Office supplies retailers are expanding the customer experience in the store, online, and are connecting the two. The customer experience encompasses everything on the path to purchase, from the research phase, to receiving the product, and the post-purchase period. Although the consumers may know they need a specific item, retailers and manufacturers have the opportunity to also remind consumers about what else they need during their shopping experience. After all, impulse purchasing is common, with almost half of office supplies purchasers indicating they buy on impulse at least some of the time. Factors such as sales, clearance events, and purchase frequency tend to drive the rate of impulse purchases up for small business and home office consumers. Providing a holistic solution to serve whole office needs and optimizing the user experience across all channels will drive loyalty, spending, and will grow share of this important demographic. 

Offering Loyalty Programs and Purchase Incentives
Most retailers offer some type of reward or loyalty program for their customers, but not all offer programs designed or tailored to the small office or home office consumer. Almost half of such consumers feel it is “very or extremely important” to offer some type of awards/loyalty program. This is especially true among those purchasing for a small office of 31-50 employees who tend to purchase not only more supplies, but more frequently as well. When asked about the preferred benefits of these programs, small business and home office purchasers cite shipping benefits, special discounts, and earning points or cash back incentives. These programs also satisfy the concept of providing a holistic solution for the business customer, and meeting their needs across supplies.

There does, however, seem to be a gap either in the awareness level or availability of a program that rewards based on time-in. For example, a customer with 10 years of membership and consistent purchasing wants to receive enhanced benefits compared to a customer with only two years of membership. In building strong, long-lasting relationships with these consumers, this type of rewards model would make sense.

These are three big ways retailers are expanding in-store and online services to better meet the evolving needs of small business and home office consumers. These consumers are looking for holistic office solutions that deliver convenience and value, and they want it all done quickly. Expect to improve consumer acquisition and retention by meeting these requirements and closing the existing opportunity gaps.

December 13, 2016

Consumers Continue to Color this Holiday Season

It was about two years ago that we at NPD detected the adult coloring book trend beginning to take flight and, alongside this trend, sales of colored pencils, markers, and even gel pens soared. During the first month of the 2015 holiday season, sales of coloring pages were up 70 percent and sales of complementary products like colored pencil sets grew over 100 percent. Demand for these items was so strong that some manufacturers were unable to turn around enough colored pencils to meet the consumer demand. Exactly one year later and the consumer demand for these products has continued.

Sales of adult coloring-related items have reached and surpassed October 2015 levels. Activities related to coloring have been linked to health and wellness, a lifestyle trend that is having a positive influence across industries. To satiate the expansive color palettes they crave while bringing life to the coloring books’ intricate designs, consumers are buying large-pack sizes of colored pencil sets, with the greatest dollar growth coming from 36, 50, and 100-pack sets. Gel and porous pens are also seeing a boost from this trend. Gel, a category which currently makes up 44 percent of all traditional pen sales, is driving growth in the pen category. During October, gel pen sales rose by 16 percent. This growth was likely amplified by the “InkTober Initiative,” a worldwide drawing challenge conceived in 2009 in which artists commit to producing one ink drawing per day for the month of October. As more consumers get in touch with their artistic side this holiday season, we will continue to see sales of coloring pages and complementary products rise into 2017.

Whether for themselves or as holiday gifts, consumers continue to purchase coloring-related items. The concept of coloring has become so popular that it has stretched beyond solo coloring, to coloring in groups or as a family. On another social level, Instagram and Pinterest have made it easier than ever for consumers to share the art they create. As new coloring, drawing, and painting trends take hold, manufacturers will need to reinvent and innovate, to meet consumers’ demand in finding different ways to create and share art as a means of personal expression.


*Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Weekly Retail Tracking Service, 4 weeks ending October 29, 2016

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