Amazon’s Role In The Office Supply Market

Office Supplies

Image from: Office Supplies / Shutterstock

It’s the moment parents have been waiting for since last school year ended: the start of the back to school season.   Traditional office supply retailers such as Staples, Office Depot and Office Max have predictably shifted into marketing overdrive to drive traffic and sales in stores and online.

Data from Compete’s Online Shopper Intelligence survey suggests that the online demand for office and school supplies is relatively flat when comparing Spring 2011 to Spring 2012.

Office & School Supplies Purchased Online

This back to school season, retailers should pay attention to an increasingly familiar competitor: Amazon.  The online retail powerhouse has successfully managed to capture market share from categories ranging from books to household consumables.

New data from Compete suggests that Amazon is becoming a legitimate competitor in the office supplies category.  We took a look at how many consumers are visiting an Amazon office supply landing page or conducting an office supply related search on Amazon, then compared that with overall traffic at the office superstore sites.  Our analysis was limited to activity for traditional office supplies – products including pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, binders, crayons and backpacks.  Last year, 80% of back to school shoppers reported buying these products according to our Online Shopper Intelligence survey.

Results of our analysis show that 1.1M shoppers considered an office supply product on Amazon.  To put that number in context, the number of unique Amazon office supply shoppers is equivalent to 48% of the total unique shoppers to Officemax.com.

Unique Shoppers to Office Supply Retailr vs. Amazon

One category Amazon appears to be particularly strong in is backpacks.  1 in 5 Amazon office supply shoppers conducted a backpack related search.

A very visible competitive advantage for Amazon in this category is free shipping.  Amazon’s spending threshold is 40-50% less than all of the big box retailers.  All of the office supply retailers require orders of between $45-50 or more.   Having a lower free shipping threshold in a category such as office supplies could be particularly appealing.

The advantage office supply stores have in their back pockets is aggressive promotions.  Promotions this week range from a free package of pens, free pencils to 10 cent rulers.  Amazon does not appear to be running promotions that are nearly that aggressive – and they likely won’t given how many other categories that they do business in.

Looking ahead, there are some important questions that need to be answered in order to understand the magnitude of Amazon’s impact on the office supplies market:

  • What specific office supply categories (e.g. pens vs backpacks) is Amazon attracting the largest share of voice online?
  • How does Amazon’s share of office supply purchases differ from its share of office supply shoppers?
  • Is the Amazon office supply shopper also an office superstore shopper?
  • When do office supply shoppers consider Amazon in their path to purchase?
  • How much do consumers spend on office supplies at Amazon vs. traditional office supply superstores?

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