Office supply “superstores” are the most depressing shopping experiences Jason 26 Jan 2006

48 comments Latest by Mr T

Man, someone’s gotta wake up the office supply superstore market. Office Depot/Max, Staples, etc offer some of the most depressing shopping experiences. Sterile interiors, grey carpet, numbing music, mindless product displays, aisles that look identical, etc. These stores feel like palaces of procrastination. I guess it’s a lot like the standard office experience, but wow, someone please offer something more compelling. The market is ripe for it.

48 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Keir Leslie 26 Jan 06

I think the problem is that people confuse dullness with dependability.

JF 26 Jan 06

Yes, their stapler is amazing, but I’m talking about the experience in the stores. It’s downright depressing. The same as computer stores before Apple got in the game.

Ian 26 Jan 06

I love Office Max, and Staples almost as much. But then, I love office supplies.

I can’t imagine buying yellow letter pads at something like a Mac store. Would they be on a pedestal with their own lighting and museum-style price tag? It’s just office supplies, and I’m glad Staples hasn’t gotten pretentious about it.

If you want a quick depression fix, try some light shopping at Costco.

Noah 26 Jan 06

I think it’s fine.

Their office supplies, you go because you already know what you’re out of.

I don’t think all that many people impulse buy a new desk or 5000 sheets of paper based on anything other than price.

I personaly find Staples to be kinda fun.

Dan Boland 26 Jan 06

That’s pretty much how I feel whenever I have to go into one of those places. It’s pretty depressing. But you forgot about the rude employees who couldn’t care any less about you. Then again, if I worked at Office Max, I’d want to shoot whoever walked in the door too. =/

Pat Maddox 26 Jan 06

Funny that you make this post now, because just three days ago I spent 45 minutes at Office Depot looking for a binder, some printer paper, and a three hole punch. First I looked at all the signs on the aisles - they didn’t help me out very much. Three trips around the store and not a single employee offered me any help..there weren’t any around! I ended up calling my girlfriend (who immediately said, “Wow you sound pissed!”) because her friend used to work there, and she ended up directing me around. I’m not a very good shopper to begin with, but it really was the most miserable shopping experience I’ve ever had.

Dan Boland 26 Jan 06

Actually, I didn’t even think of this while I was writing my earlier post, but I recently read an article about how Office Max is revamping their store designs because the “warehouse” feel pretty much makes people want to shoot themselves. For now, it’s only going to affect new stores — they haven’t decided whether they will change all of their existing stores or not.

JF 26 Jan 06

Yeah, the warehouse feel pretty much says “fuck you” to the customer experience. It treats customers like stock clerks. It almost feels like you work there when you shop there. Bad bad bad.

indi 26 Jan 06

I thought the idea of the warehouse look was to give the consumer the feeling they are buying wholesale at bulk prices and thereby getting a better price. Now that these types of stores are all so similar it makes sense for these stores to up the ante with a better buying experience.

MT Heart 26 Jan 06

I remember a couple of years back telling an OD manager how awesome it would be if they partitioned off an area in the store and add:

A few cubes/tables
Wireless internet access
Coffee bar
Use of PC’s/printers.

You could see the spark in his eye get doused by the corp head office decision that would no doubt follow the suggestion…

I thought it was a great idea if I do say so myself.

Mark 26 Jan 06

Actually, I think the warehouse experience is intended to convey a sense of *volume* and say “fuck you” to added layers of pricing to fund an unnecessary experience. Do a quick search on Costco and you’ll be hard-pressed to find criticism by members or employees; they’re a company that cares about taking care of both.

Jason 26 Jan 06

I agree - I’m surprised they don’t have a suicide booth isle.

Jason Johnson 26 Jan 06

Have you been in a Toys R Us lately? They take the office supply stores to school in horrific customer experience… and its a toy store. Depressing music, crumbling worn-out displays, tattered shelving, lacking stock, absent-minded employees, the workings of a madhouse.

I discovered this when shopping with my girlfriend for a baby shower she was to attend. Believing it to be an experience exclusive to that store, we visited Babies R Us down the street. To our dismay, same deal, and even more limited stock.

Jay Laney 26 Jan 06

I guess it�s a lot like the standard office experience, but wow, someone please offer something more compelling.

The first thing I thought of when I tried to think of something more compelling was my local bar.

That’s probably more of an issue with me than anything else, though.

Mike 26 Jan 06

Maybe that’s why we seem to do most of our shopping online..from

Although it does jazz me up sometimes to go in and touch a few pens and a new chair !

Jason B. 26 Jan 06

I see what you’re saying, but I have to say some kind words about Staples. The one nearest my home is very nice with carpet, nice lighting and extremely helpful employees. It may be cheesy, but I really like the way they say, “Welcome To Staples,” when you walk in the door. Things are well laid out and I don’t have any major complaints. On the other hand, I LOATHE Office Depot. Yuk.

Mark 26 Jan 06

Jason -

You’re looking at this from the eyes of a small company. I would argue that the meat of the money these companies are making is from corporations, who never step a foot in their stores, but rather order everything from the big, fat catalog.

It’s the same thought process, I feel, as the discussion not too long ago on FedEx -v- UPS storefront design. UPS doesn’t need to be “pretty and happy” because the bulk of their customers receive their goods via delivery.

John 26 Jan 06

The Container Store is a fun place to shop, at the same time selling “boring” stuff like hangers and trash bins. They have big “warehouse” sized stores but the sales staff are nice and the place is well planned. I don’t see why this couldn’t happen to the office supply industry.

JF 26 Jan 06

The Container Store is a fun place to shop, at the same time selling �boring� stuff like hangers and trash bins. They have big �warehouse� sized stores but the sales staff are nice and the place is well planned. I don�t see why this couldn�t happen to the office supply industry.

Exactly. What’s even more depressing than depressing office supply stores are the attitudes of people resigned to think that things can’t be better.

Trevor 26 Jan 06

Are you kidding! My idea of heaven is to browse these endless aisles of office supplies. There is no better way to satisfy my fetish for stationery.

Timothy Lang 26 Jan 06

I’ve got to chime in with a “me too” here. The Office Max out in Melrose Park is possibly the most depressing place i’ve been. Giant warehouse, cold flickering lights, and a couple of sad, sad teenagers who could be working or just waiting to die.

Adam James 26 Jan 06

Unfortunately the problem with retail stores as a whole is prototypes. A prototype being the design, layout and general shopping experience The way a new store is layed out will be different at times then an older store. Unfortunately, some stores that originally opened up a few years ago can tend to look run down and out of date, for obvious reasons. While many companies will remodel and “fix” older stores, it costs money and annoys shoppers.

Yes, it can annoy people more then dealing with the older layout. People don’t care if you say the store will be nicer looking and easier to use in two weeks, they want to buy the XYZ widget right now, regardless if that aisle is closed at the time.

Of course it comes down to choosing prototypes that will work six or eight years down the line, which is an average lifespan for a prototype without stretching the remodeling budget.

I have noticed that newer Staples (I don’t goto many other office suppy stores.) have new prototypes and the experience is much nicer. Aisle layouts are better. Also carpeting is being used now because of new products available now which are installed like floor tiles. And then there’s the misc. improvements like paint and lighting.

Why do companies still use overhead music, though? It’s called muzak for a reason, has anyone seen a large box retailer besides Target not using overhead music?

Cory 27 Jan 06

I have no problem with the ‘user experience’ in these type of stores since I can walk in, find an employee in less than a minute, have them point me in the right direction, pick up my goods, and be out the door in less than five minutes.

That, and from my experience, their return policies are excellent, they’ve made real efforts to make mail-in rebates less painful, and the employees are generally pretty helpful.

Plus, if ramping up ‘customer experience’ means I pay a penny more for my ream of paper or my photocopied fliers, I’d rather live with the obnoxiousness that is the big box store.

Jay 27 Jan 06

But office super stores smell nice. Seriously. Fresh, papery…

Beau Hartshorne 27 Jan 06

I agree, big box stores are very depressing. Most of these office stores offer free local delivery. Just order whatever you need from their site, someone will stop by in a few hours or the next day with all of your stuff. I do this for all of my big box shopping.

Tim Almond 27 Jan 06

Jason Johnson,

I completely agree about Toys-R-Us. I can think of no other company where the atmosphere is so different from the product.

I wonder if cheap-looking is part of the marketing. My own experience of some big shed retailers in the UK is that they are no cheaper than local independent stores, but the image is that they will be cheaper, through “sales” and “price crash” marketing. I’ve got friends buying from local electrical retailers who offer similar prices, but far better service than the big guys.

I’ve also found this with office supplies. The in-town stationer was no more expensive than the out-of-town store. For office furniture, I went to Ikea and built my own, and for a chair, I found a bankrupt stock company who sold me a chair worth about �300 for �60.

Martin 27 Jan 06

I’m glad you talk about this, because we have just launch in france a low cost office supply website,

It’s based on the idea of one need, one product to simplify the navigation. We also thaught as you guys that office supplies website and stores are very despressing so we based the conception of the website on user experience.

Even if it’s in french i would be pleased if i could get your comments about the website.

Spike 27 Jan 06

Its off-topic, but that orange and black is overpowering for the main content area.

Christopher 27 Jan 06

I like the shopping experience offered by the major office supply stores. I was once a purchasing manager for a large entity and believe they are right on target for this market. I find the stores comfort and reassure me with the monotony of interiors and parity between the chains. This ensures that the stores are a place for business people and after all that is who they serve.

Darin 27 Jan 06

Why don’t the big box stores use kiosks so that customers can type in what they’re looking for and it can tell them in which of the 87 aisles their paint can opener is in?

Carolyn 27 Jan 06

There is something more compelling — it’s called a local independent. Mine doesn’t sell toner so I have to go to staples for that, but I love roaming the aisles of that store (not Staples, I just want in and out of there. ick) because they have lots of other stuff to look at.

Fine James 27 Jan 06

Anyone wonder why you can buy a box of Graham Crackers at Office Depot?

Ryan 27 Jan 06

Most stores depress me and bore me. Even the real trendy spots like Abrocrombie & Fitch that are seemingly well desgined. They just bore the crap out of me.

But I’m also the dude with a bright orange office. :)

Glenn Couch 27 Jan 06

I recently added Office Depot to my list of “will not enter these stores again under any circumstances” list. It follows Walmart and is number 2 on the list.

Joe 27 Jan 06

The other day I walked from Barnes & Noble to Staples. At BN, I asked someone to point me in the direction of business books, and they actually walked me over and helped me find both books I was looking for. I was just going to check them out, not buy, but the friendly touch nudged my buying decision.

Then I went to Staples… couldn’t find anything I was looking for, asked employees for help, and they just pointed in some murky direction. Finally, I brought my stuff up to the counter, where I had to wait a bit to get their attention, only to be told that this counter was closed and I had to go upstairs. They always seem to busy to help the customer.

Since that time, I’ve always wondered why it would be so difficult to institute the practice of having employees show customers where their desired products are and helping them out with selection. Wouldn’t that increase the chance of the sale and improve the customer experience for little to no extra cost? Wouldn’t that give a competitive differentiation vs. other outlets… including a reason to buy at their store rather than a discount internet site?

Scott 27 Jan 06

I used to work at Staples. You think the interior is bad? The management is even worse. Dull people, dull ideas, no motivation. It only goes down hill from there. It’s quite depressing.

Greg Hoy 27 Jan 06

Try TJ Maxx. I refuse to accompany my wife there. Even if I can get a Polo oxford fro $20.

Paul 27 Jan 06

The original post is an excellent point. Some people (like me!) geek out over office supplies. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I like pens. I love Sharpies. I love my Moleskine (and yes, that makes me a hipster.) What the office stores need to do is tap into the “loves office supplies” demographic and get that into the branding, the stores, the staff.

I’m glad to hear The Container Store mentioned. Their prices are usually a premium over, say, Target but the experience there is top-notch. I worked for TCS while I was in college and came to respect their entire management style. It works, it respects the employee and thus, it respects the customer.

Maybe the industry needs more people who really love this stuff?

Danno 28 Jan 06

I like the stores, pretty wide open aisles, good organization, not many sales reps to bug you about stuff…

Personally, the only change I’d really go for are changing the aisles in Staples or Office Depot to carpet instead of linoleum.

Rick 20 Mar 06

I found Staples to be the least depressing of all of these. In a row today, I visited a FedExKinko’s, a CompUSA, an OfficeMax, and a Staples, all looking for the same items. Ironically, I found the items at FedExKinko’s (Dearborn & Division Streets in Chicago), but the staff were so uninterested in helping me find what I was looking for or even ringing up my purchase, I put down the items and left. Next I went to CompUSA (Rush/Chicago Ave.) and the first sound that greeted me was employees at the top of the escalator joking and laughing with each other (and ignoring customers). I couldn’t find the items there and made eye contact and said “hello” to three different employees (two seemed to be management types) there but failed to get their attention. As I was leaving I was almost knocked over by two employees running to see who could be the first to clock out of their shift. Not so much as an “excuse me” was uttered. Next I went to OfficeMax (Lake St./Michigan Ave.), and was annoyed by two employees in the “CopyMax” section joking, flirting and goofing off so noisily with each other it almost drowned out the depressing muzak palying over the radio. No one here paid me any mind either. Finally I went to Staples (Randolph/Wabash) and was greeted and shown the exact items I was looking for by a beautiful young Latina, who actually smiled and showed sympaty when I related the retail nightmare I encountered in the other stores. I actually made a purchase there simply due to her helpfulness and professionalism.

Scott 02 Apr 06

To each his own, I suppose.

I rather enjoy Office Supply stores. Even just for browsing.

Generally I prefer Staples, but a lot of it has to do with the newness of the store.

For example, I’ve been in some ancient (and somewhat depressing) Office Max stores and I’ve been in some relatively new ones that were quite nice.



RUDEBOY 20 Jun 06

That’s right: they all suck; their employees do a miserable job. But there’s a reason for all of that.
Imagine they all get paid at most $9/hr sweating in buildings that have no AC, serving customers like slaves ….
barely getting 30 hrs/week …… It all adds up to crappy service. But again, it is what it is and we all have to deal with it.

Mr T 29 Jul 06

A lot of very valid points, All three of the major OS players are generating 60%+ of retail sales from small businesses that tend to look more at in stock of items they need and the service they receive from �THEIR LOCAL STORE�. I will take the most run down Staples or Depot with a smiling face at the front and a courteous associate to help you find your toner, over a Wal-mart or Target anyday. New STAPLES��VERY NICE!!!