Office supplies retail giant Staples is engaging in discussions with travel industry partners and has trialled the presence of travel agents in some of its stores as part of its strategy to become “the first stop for non-stop travel” in both its stores and online.
In July, Caitlin Gomez, a former vice president at Clear and the Global Business Travel Association who also held positions with Travel Leaders Corporate and the American Society of Travel Agents, joined Staples as its first director of travel travel strategy and partnerships.
“Our goal is to make Staples the convenient, reliable, all-inclusive place to provide safe and secure travel services to small business owners, their employees and consumers,” said Craig Grayson, senior vice president of travel services. Staples US Retail.
“We plan to meet our customers wherever they need us to reduce as much stress and confusion around travel services as possible, which could include online and in-app components.”
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Staples has offered TSA PreCheck registration for about five years. It now has around 250 stores offering the service and has processed around 2.5 million registrations since its launch. The retailer also offers some passport services: more than 500,000 photos have been taken in its stores since the start of the year.
Grayson said the success of these services provided “proof” that Staples has credibility in providing travel services and that, in part because of changes brought on by the pandemic, an expansion of its offerings may both serving existing customers and providing a new reason. for consumers to come to its stores.
“Travel is strong and continues to grow, but, due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19, the travel landscape has changed,” he said.
“This change, particularly in the number of people working from home, has significantly impacted the way travelers access the tools and services needed to do business. It is much more difficult to reach and engage with the remote working population. We believe Staples is perfectly positioned to take on the role of providing travel services where they are most convenient and accessible to travelers.
We plan to meet our customers wherever they need us to minimize stress and confusion around travel services, which could include online and in-app components.
Craig Grayson – Staples
To test its theory, Staples conducted two pilot programs that brought travel professionals into its stores to talk to customers about their travel plans while waiting for TSA or passport services. For one pilot, travel professionals came from a “partner agency” – which Staples did not want to name – and for the other, individual stores invited local travel agents to come.
“The intent was to at least understand, for our benefit, what are these customers doing and is there a differentiation for a customer who chooses Staples and… is there some connective tissue and would customers give us permission to go in this direction?
The answer? “There’s definitely a place for us to play,” he said.
Now the question is “how”.
Grayson doesn’t envision Staples building a booking tool or platform but, possibly partnering with existing travel agencies – he mentioned airlines or booking agents – “that we might link up with because of our size, because of their size, really develop a value proposition.” in packages that would be compelling to at least present to our customers when they find themselves in that moment of need.
Because it’s still early days, Grayson wouldn’t name the partners he spoke with — “some to gather information, some to plant the seed” — but he said the partners were receptive to the idea of Staples engaging more deeply with the journey.
There is a tremendous amount of excitement as we have spoken with very specific partners in the space around us, bringing the conversation and capabilities to the retail population.
Craig Grayson – Staples
“There is a tremendous amount of excitement as we have spoken with very specific partners in the space around us, bringing the conversation and capabilities to the retail population,” Grayson said.
“They see this as an opportunity to reach this customer who is hard to reach for them but easier for us because it’s what we do every day. How you thread that needle is the piece that we have to work on to think about it very carefully. We don’t seek to partner with entities just to say we’re partnered with them, and we feature their brands in our stores. There has to be a meaningful agenda behind it and a value proposition that we can bring to our customers.
“I’ve actually been in some cases very surprised by how receptive they’ve been, even to the idea that Staples, the classic big box retailer, wants to play in this space. And I would say the overwhelming majority of responses have been, wow, that’s amazing, that really makes sense, so to me… that confirms that we have something.