business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Staples seems to want to transition from "that was easy" to "that was easier."

The retailer - which is battling federal regulators for the right to acquire Office Depot, which it hopes will make it more competitive with online office supply stores - has rolled out a new system "that taps natural language processing and machine learning."

According to the Wall Street Journal, "The Staples Easy System lets business customers reorder products through a mobile app or its familiar red 'easy' button outfitted with sensors, wireless networking and voice-response technology. The Wi-Fi-enabled red button communicates with an ordering system integrated with the customer’s account information and purchasing history to process the request. Using natural language processing software, the system behind the button translates spoken words and makes order confirmations via voice. Custom-built analytics comb a customer’s purchasing history to suggest brands and amounts, based on past orders. The new Easy System mobile app can also make orders by voice or by tapping and typing ... The intent is to fit purchasing into the typical way a company works, rather than require that customers return to their desks to access a special application for ordering."

This sounds a little like Amazon's Echo, which clearly is creating reverberations that are being felt throughout retailing. The broader lesson, I think, is that we're likely to see a lot of these kinds of technological innovations as companies look to make it easier for consumers to interact with them and create the kinds of ecosystems that Amazon has been so successful and forging.

Next thing you know, I'll be able to say, 'Earl Grey. Hot" ... and it'll just appear on my desk.

It'll be an Eye-Opener. In fact. it already is.
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