Yes, I’m talking about the same Staples where you buy your pens and copy paper. About a month ago, Staples announced the launch of the Staples App Center, an innovative online marketplace for cloud-based business applications. The App Center makes it easy for small businesses to purchase and manage business apps all in one place. The center offers a growing selection of business apps geared for small businesses, an administrative console to manage them, and a single, monthly bill that consolidates all usage.

A few weeks ago, Andrew and I had an opportunity to chat with the Staples APP Center team regarding this new announcement and I must say – what a great idea! Many small businesses today find themselves searching the web for the best online storage product, the best email marketing tool or the best online payroll product – technologies that Staples considers ideal cloud-based business apps for the App Center. Staples’ strategy with the App Center is to introduce SMBs to the growing number of providers with solutions geared to and priced for the SMBs. Staples does have a great advantage in this market – its very large and loyal small business customer base.

Some examples of the apps offered via the Staples App Center are Carbonite (online backup), Yendo (CRM & Accounting), Lucidchart (online diagramming app) and OmniJoin (web & video conferencing). The official description of a business app from Staples is:

“Apps are cloud-based services hosted by an offsite provider and available over the Internet. That means, you can access these apps 24/7, wherever you are, with any web-connected device. Most apps have free trials, require no additional hardware or software and are paid for with monthly or annual subscriptions”

Staples has been developing this offering for some time and has been listening to the needs of their customers. Here are some key differentiators and value propositions that make this offering unique for the small business segment.

  • Broad coverage – To best serve small business, Staples wanted this offering to be broad and comprehensive covering a wide range of categories enabling their customers to learn from them and better understand which business app they should take advantage of. Customers get an online-shopping experience for business apps, with reviews and detailed descriptions of what the app does, how much it costs, etc, free-trials, etc.
  • Best app – In order to provide customers with additional value, Staples does a significant amount of vetting, research and testing on various different products within a specific category with the aim being to offer customers a short-list of the best apps. For example, there are several online backup products available in the market. Staples researched the various products and ended up selecting two to offer its customers – Carbonite and Mozy.
  • Try before you buy – Staples offers the free-trials for all of the business apps within the App Center and also allows customers to cancel a subscription to a specific app at any time.
  • One login, one dashboard, one bill – With this feature, customers can use their Staples App Center login credentials for any business app that is purchased via Staples. The single dashboard allows users to complete quick administrative tasks across all apps that they subscribe to (e.g, add a user, upgrade, invoicing history). The dashboard also has a newsfeed that displays various activity that is taking place across all of the users apps. Additionally, Staples App Center customers only receive one consolidated bill per month for all business app subscriptions, as opposed to various monthly charges at various times on a credit card.

Overall, I think the Staples App Center is a great idea for small businesses as it really looks to solve many of the challenges that small businesses face with selecting, deploying, using, managing, and paying for technology.

P.S. We’ve already made the case to Staples that the AppCenter should strongly consider supply management solutions. More on that discussion as it continues…..

P.P.S. Whether you work for an SMB or a Fortune 20 company, you will not want to miss this new webinar produced and hosted by Ardent Partners – “The Five Technologies that Will Disrupt Procurement’s World” – click for more info.

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