Talking with…OfficeMax Vice President for Multichannel and E-commerce Operations Tom Giacalone

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merch13_blog icon_80x80-01With more than 900 stores in the United States and Mexico, approximately 29,000 employees and Fortune 500 status, OfficeMax is a retail powerhouse. And as a retailer with both online operations and a strong brick-and-mortar footprint, conversations around seamless, omnichannel customer experience are critical to understanding how the company has taken its business to the next level.

But it isn’t just talk at OfficeMax. Digital is a change agent. At the upcoming (and sold out) Shop.org Online Merchandising Workshop, more than 300 attendees will hear how OfficeMax embraces digital with top-line support from leadership and infuses this cultural mind-shift across its entire organization. To help introduce the Shop.org community to the OfficeMax team, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with one of the many executives behind the transformation. A long-time Shop.org friend, Tom Giacalone, vice president for multichannel and e-commerce operations, shared his short list of essential e-commerce investments, the must-have role of a multichannel evangelist, and experience-enhancing, in-store technologies.

Tom Giacalone 2-low res

Tom Giacalone, Vice President, Multichannel and eCommerce Operations, OfficeMax

OfficeMax has recently made some big investments in e-commerce enhancements. What was your ultimate goal in this process and have you achieved it?

We have made enhancements this past year to both our retail and business-to-business web sites. First, we enhanced our flagship OfficeMax.com website, increasing the number of online products and rolling out a new search engine which helped customers to shop faster with more accurate search and recommendation results for a more convenient online shopping experience. We also introduced Online Store Pickup, a service that lets shoppers pick up their Web orders the same day at the OfficeMax store of their choice.

On OfficeMaxWorkplace.com – our business-to-business e-commerce site – we set out to give our contract customers a more engaging and enjoyable shopping experience with improved search efficiency, shopping and ordering. We were able to achieve all this while maintaining key tools to help our customers maintain control of their procurement processes. We’ve seen higher satisfaction among our Workplace customers as a result of the site enhancements, and we’ve heard positive feedback as customers are finding their desired products more quickly.

What were the three most important lessons you learned during this big undertaking?

  1. Our commitment to putting customers first can present challenges, but ultimately is very rewarding. It took quite a bit of effort from the IT and business side to make sure our new on-site search engine was functioning the way we wanted it to, and we’re always making tweaks, but at the end of the day our customers are responding well to this tool and it’s making it easier for them to shop. It’s a win-win.
  2. When I arrived at OfficeMax, the Online Store Pickup project was already in flight. We made some mid-course adjustments to store-process execution reporting and customer satisfaction measurement, based upon my past experiences. These adjustments caused us to deliver the project a few weeks later than planned but overall it’s been beneficial because this gave us the actionable metrics and feedback to insure that we were delivering the best experience possible to our customers.
  3. Business-to-business customers are very vocal, and have provided feedback on all changes we’ve made to our OfficeMaxWorkplace website. We’re happy to report that their feedback has been specific and very positive which will help us prioritize web enhancements for business-to-business in the future.

The effort to offer a seamless shopping experience across channels has required a lot of companies to rethink how they’re organized. What kinds of changes has OfficeMax made in the way its internal teams work together?

We’ve really worked hard these past few years to tear down the “silos” that tend to grow within large organizations. As you can imagine, with multiple sales channels – our retail stores, e-commerce and catalogs – it’s easy to have a singular focus. To challenge this, we’ve added my new role within the organization to act as the multichannel evangelist across the company – to drive how we think and act differently. We’ve challenged our teams to better reflect the multi-discipline, omnichannel approach to bring initiatives and program launches to market more effectively, and with one common goal. And we’re growing a culture of innovation, allowing our teams to take risks, and try new leading-edge ways of doing things. Our teams know it’s OK to fail as long as we learned from it and make adjustments to better serve the customer.

How have growing digital possibilities affected the store experience at OfficeMax and how do you see new technology enhancing your stores?

The blend of the digital and retail formats have brought exciting possibilities to the OfficeMax shopping experience. Our goal is to provide a superior multichannel experience to reach and engage the customer when and where they want to shop, whether in-store, online or mobile. Our launch of Online Store Pickup is one such example allowing customers to shop online at OfficeMax.com and pick up select orders the same day at our stores. It’s convenient for shoppers because it is convenient, as well as saving them shipping time and cost.

We’ve also started to bring the digital experience in-store with OfficeMax.com kiosks to provide store customers with “endless aisle” access to thousands more office, technology, furniture and paper products that aren’t on shelves.

We strive to be everywhere our customers want to shop, and this is also reflected in our digital marketing efforts across tablet, mobile, desktop and SMS. When our customers are looking for us or a product we sell, we’re doing all we can to be there to make it easy on our existing and new customers.

It was announced earlier this year that OfficeMax and OfficeDepot will be merging. How will you be adjusting your e-commerce strategy for this new entity?

It’s too early to comment on what impact a merger might have on our e-commerce strategy. And until the transaction closes, OfficeMax and Office Depot must continue to compete as two separate companies. Nothing about the way we do business with our customers is changing now. We intend to continue to offer our customers products and services that fit the way they want to work.

What excites you about the coming years, both for your company and the industry as a whole?

Every day brings something new to this industry. There are new channels to market our products, new vendors with exciting capabilities and new ways to present our products and services to our customers. That brings excitement in and of itself but the culture at OfficeMax also adds to this because e-commerce is encouraged to think outside of the box, test new things and challenge each other to grow our business.

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