Letting Go

One of the hardest decisions anyone has to face is what to do about a loved one who is terminally ill. We may have the technology to keep them alive indefinitely, but eventually it becomes a quality of life issue. Sooner or later, no matter how much you’ll miss them, you just have to let them go. It’s the only humane thing to do.

staples stockThis is the decision that Staples’ investors are facing. The stock has lost over 30% of its value this year alone, and the future doesn’t look any better.

The End of Consumables
Staples says “make more happen” and that’s exactly what we are doing, but technology has changed forever the way in which we do that. It just stands to reason that you use less office supplies when you don’t work in an office, and today one in five Americans work from home. We no longer share things by printing them out, putting them in binders and passing them around with paper clips and sticky notes attached. Everything is done electronically. Even electronic consumables like floppy disks, CDs and magnetic tapes have all but vanished as storage has moved to the cloud.

Clicks beats Bricks
When we do need to buy things like memory cards and print cartridges, it’s just so much easier to buy them online from places like Amazon where we can get great prices, enormous selection, and delivery without the time and fuel expense of running out to the store. As a result, privately held office-supply, stationery and gift retailers operated with a net loss of 1.2% of sales in 2013. That just leaves services.

Closed Staples store in Alexandria, VA

Image courtesy redbricktown.com

A Flight to Services Fails
Staples has attempted to embrace the electronic revolution by making online software investments that leverage their retail store locations. For example, they offer same-day business cards. You design them using software on their website, then pick them up in the store four hours later.

One Man’s Story
How well does this work? I only know from my personal experience. Before lunch, I ordered some business cards. Even though they were guaranteed to be ready in 4 hours, that evening they were not done.

Around lunchtime the next day, I went to the store. Still not done. I asked them to call me when they were ready. By 4:00 PM, I still had not heard from them, so I called. I waited on the phone for a while and then they hung up on me.

I called back. They transferred me and put me on hold. I held and held and finally I got into my car and drove down there. I asked for the store manager and was directed to a register. I stood in line while he rang up the customer ahead of me. The customer paid and left. Then I handed the store manager the phone, which was still on hold.

I got a bunch of apologies. “No, sorry, your cards don’t seem to be here. No, I don’t know why. Do you have the order number? I don’t seem to be able to look it up on the computer.”

I looked up the number for them from my confirmation email and gave it to them. Nope, not done. They don’t know what happened. They’ll do it now. Can I come back and pick them up later?

This morning, 48-hours after ordering, I still don’t have the cards. I could have ordered them from Moo.Com and gotten some really nice cards delivered to me by now.

So yes, Staples investors, I know it’s sad and I know you’ll miss them, but it’s time to pull the plug on Staples. It’s the only humane thing to do.