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

Brick-and-Mortar sales continue to dominate consumer spending

Port Washington, NY, February 14, 2017 – 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.

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“Continued industry consolidation via mergers, exits, and store closings has not only reduced the number of physical store locations, but has also led to fierce competition, both in stores and online, among office supplies brands and retailers,” said Leen Nsouli, director, office supplies industry analyst, The NPD Group. “Gaining prominent position on shrinking in-store shelves is now more valuable than it has ever been. Understanding the best assortment to have on shelves, and providing consumers with multiple options to simultaneously research and shop online will become increasingly important for industry players in the coming year.”

Category Performance
Creative expression and personalization were key themes for the industry in 2016. Category groups contributing to the industry’s growth in 2016 were writing instruments, coloring and art, and dated products. Stemming from the consumer demand inspired by the adult coloring trend, coloring pages (+49 percent), colored pencil sets (+44 percent), and gel pens (+18 percent) were among the top dollar growth sub-categories in 2016. Sales of appointment books/planners were also a top contributor to growth (+9 percent).

Back to Business – A Growth Opportunity for the Industry
Accounting for more than one-third of total industry sales during the year, back-to-school is the biggest season for the office supplies industry. While back-to-school shoppers are not the only group the industry relies upon to drive sales, small business customers also play a big role. According to NPD’s 2016 report, Understanding the Small Office/Home Office Consumer, two-thirds of small business and home office consumers reported purchasing supplies at least once a month or more. Among these purchasers, 51 percent shopped exclusively at brick-and-mortar retailers, while 26 percent shopped exclusively online.

“Small business is big business. With attention to capture the business customers’ share of wallet and loyalty running high within the office supplies industry, continuous innovation to improve and personalize their online and in-store experience can give retailers and manufacturers the competitive edge they need in 2017,” said Nsouli.


*Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Weekly Retail Tracking Service, 52 weeks ending December 31, 2016 (excluding Janitorial & Breakroom)

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