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Staples’ “Easy Button” Comes to Life with IBM Watson

Next-generation cognitive-enabled solution enters Alpha and Beta testing for Staples Business Advantage customers

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 3:00 pm EDT

Dateline:

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.

Public Company Information:

NASDAQ:
SPLS
"Staples and IBM have combined the power of Watson technology with Staples’ expertise in helping small and medium businesses to transform how companies shop for everything they need for their office"

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Staples (NASDAQ: SPLS) announced today that it has reached the next phase of its Staples Easy System pilot program, unveiling the new cognitive-enabled “Easy Button” office supply reordering system which integrates IBM’s Watson technology to simplify office supply management for Staples Business Advantage Customers.

The Staples Easy System brings the “on-demand” world to businesses, allowing customers to order anytime, anywhere, from any device they prefer. By tapping into IBM’s Watson Conversation service, Staples now offers a seamless ordering interface for customers across the Staples Easy System ecosystem – whether it’s via Staples’ proprietary next-generation Easy Button, through the app, text, email, over Facebook Messenger or with a Slackbot. The Watson-enabled interface simplifies the customers’ shopping experience, allowing them to quickly reorder supplies, track shipments or chat about customer service needs.

In addition to facilitating simpler interactions with customers, cognitive capabilities built into the system and powered by a combination of Watson Knowledge Studio and Staples’ own internal personalization APIs will help the Staples Easy System learn more about each businesses’ preferences over time, including their preferred products and quantities. Eventually, the system will even be able to make product and services recommendations based on the customer’s current needs.

“Staples and IBM have combined the power of Watson technology with Staples’ expertise in helping small and medium businesses to transform how companies shop for everything they need for their office,” said Faisal Masud, executive vice president, eCommerce and customer experience, Staples. “With the Easy System, administrators will have greater overall management of their organizations’ procurement processes, ultimately saving them time they can instead spend on running their office. It’s the assistant’s assistant.”

Since announcing the Staples Easy System solution earlier this year, Staples’ Applied Innovation, e-Commerce and IT teams have been working on adding features and services to benefit business customers, including:

  • Speech-to-text capability, translating the inbound audio stream from the customer to Staples, which then allows for recognition of what they want to order or ask the Easy System.
  • The ability to view and playback all requests received from the customer’s Easy Button, allowing both the customer and Staples to listen to captured audio, review submissions from any of their devices and verify the requested items.
  • Strengthening the customer service chat feature with IBM’s Watson Conversation service, allowing the system to quickly respond to common requests, like checking on product availability.
  • Self-monitoring status updates through an API that sends a request to the Easy System from the Easy Button to check if button is online or not. If the Easy System detects that button is not online then it will send an email to the customer to alert them before the next time they try and make an order.

“A critical component of Watson’s technology is engagement, facilitating better interactions between brands and consumers, deepening connections and enhancing how people engage,” said Steve Abrams, distinguished engineer and vice president of developer advocacy, IBM Watson. “Our collaboration with Staples puts cognitive in the palm of the consumer’s hand, streamlining business operations and creating a frictionless customer experience.”

The Easy Button is being rolled out via Alpha Test to a small subset of Staples Business Advantage customers in the Austin, TX market. This will be followed by a broader Beta Test rollout to over 100 additional customers in Austin and New York before the year-end.

Staples is continuing to investigate other applications for the Easy System technology, including integrating additional Watson-related APIs in the future that could help with other tasks like booking a flight, ordering flowers or even making dinner reservations. Other future applications could come from the Easy Button’s “Internet of Things” capabilities, allowing it to connect to, and communicate with, other smart devices, like a printer that tells the button when it’s low on toner.

Businesses interested in learning more about the Easy System, including how to sign up to be a Beta customer, can visit www.staples.com/easy.

The Alpha and Beta tests of the Easy Button are part of a larger initiative from Staples to make easier shopping happen, which also includes the recently announced “Scan My List” functionality for Staples’ iOS mobile app, which lets a customer scan their shopping list or even take a picture of their breakroom to generate a Staples.com order.

About Staples, Inc.

Staples retail stores and Staples.com help small business customers make more happen by providing a broad assortment of products, expanded business services and easy ways to shop, all backed with a lowest price guarantee. Staples offers businesses the convenience to shop and buy how and when they want - in store, online, via mobile or though social apps. Staples.com customers can either buy online and pick-up in store or ship for free from Staples.com with Staples Rewards minimum purchase. Expanded services also make it easy for businesses to succeed with in-store Business Centers featuring shipping services and products, copying, scanning, faxing and computer work stations, Tech Services, full-service Print & Marketing Services, Staples Merchant Services, small business lending and credit services.

Staples Business Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples, Inc., helps mid-market, commercial and enterprise-sized customers make more happen by offering a curated assortment of products and services combined with deep expertise, best-in-class customer service, competitive pricing and state-of-the art-ecommerce site. Staples Business Advantage is the one-source solution for all things businesses need to succeed, including office supplies, facilities cleaning and maintenance, breakroom snacks and beverages, technology, furniture, interior design and Print & Marketing Services. Headquartered outside of Boston, Staples, Inc. operates throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. More information about Staples (NASDAQ: SPLS) is available at www.staples.com.

Multimedia Files:

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By tapping into IBM’s Watson Conversation service, Staples now offers a seamless ordering interface for customers across the Staples Easy System ecosystem – whether it’s via Staples’ proprietary next-generation Easy Button, through the app, text, email, over Facebook Messenger or with a Slackbot. The Watson-enabled interface simplifies the customers’ shopping experience, allowing them to quickly reorder supplies, track shipments or chat about customer service needs.
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Staples has reached the next phase of its Staples Easy System pilot program, unveiling the new cognitive-enabled “Easy Button” office supply reordering system which integrates IBM’s Watson technology to simplify office supply management for Staples Business Advantage Customers. (Photo: Business Wire)
Preview image
The Staples Easy System brings the “on-demand” world to businesses, allowing customers to order anytime, anywhere, from any device they prefer. (Photo: Business Wire)
Preview image
The Watson-enabled interface simplifies the customers’ shopping experience, allowing them to quickly reorder supplies, track shipments or chat about customer service needs. (Photo: Business Wire)
Preview image
The Easy Button is being rolled out via Alpha Test to a small subset of Staples Business Advantage customers in the Austin, TX market. This will be followed by a broader Beta Test rollout to over 100 additional customers in Austin and New York before the year-end. (Photo: Business Wire)
Preview image

Contact:

Staples, Inc.
Mark Cautela, 508-253-3832
Mark.Cautela@Staples.com

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