Few marketing gimmicks have had the kind of break-out success as the Staples “Easy Button.” It was originally intended to be a fictitious button in a television ad campaign that ran back in the early aughts. But people liked it, and as the clamor grew louder, Staples responded by making the “Easy Button” a real product. These buttons were shipped to stores in the US, Canada, and Germany starting in the fall of 2005. Sales of the buttons reached 1.5 million by the end of 2006, and, to date, over 10 million of these brightly colored but useless little things have been sold – turning legions of Staples customers (and their desks) into free billboards for the company. Heck, there’s even one lying around somewhere in our Charlotte marketing agency.
Now, perhaps inspired by Amazon’s Dash Buttons (an internet-enabled small hardware device that allows customers to order things like paper towels and laundry detergent by clicking a button), developers at Staples are working to make their version truly useful by connecting it to backend services that will let business customers place their office supply orders and, eventually, check on order status via voice command, according to sources at the office supply retailer.
As part of the growing Internet of Things, the physical device (in this case, the Easy Button) serves as the front end to an array of powerful technologies including natural language processing (NLP), big data analytics, and artificial intelligence that takes past orders and interactions to fine tune its responses.
Taking the friction out of e-commerce is a big theme these days. That’s what Amazon is trying to do with its Dash buttons, but they are consumer-oriented and dedicated to single products while this effort focuses on business customers and, in theory, can handle a number of different products within the Staples portfolio.
Staples must be hoping that the iconic Easy Button, now enabled with useful technologies, really can make things easier—and perhaps drive sales in the process.