In 2007, Staples (SPLS) realized it needed to take a new look at paper. The branded product is an important part of the company's office supplies category, which accounts for 41.8% of sales. But two industry trends were complicating purchases. First, products had become machine-specific—some were designed for copiers, say, while others worked best in laser printers. Second, paper was being further balkanized by eco-labeling that reported its percentage of recycled content. "We wanted to make the shopping experience easy, and to do that we had to fundamentally rethink the packaging and the makeup of the line itself," says Andrew Schneider, Staples' director of strategic planning.
Typically, what would have happened next was this: A Staples brand manager would convene and observe focus groups to learn how and why customers decide what to buy, to come up with new approaches. The brand team would then decide which of those ideas seemed the most promising and would develop test products to show consumers in an online survey or in Staples' retail lab at its head office in Framingham, Mass.