As 2022 progresses, businesses have begun to settle in and either bring employees back into the office or capitalize on the proven productivity boosts seen with hybrid and at-home work. Whether selecting a hybrid format or bringing employees fully back on-site, there is an increased need for office supplies and printing to support these efforts. But, just like everything post-COVID, the bounce-back has been heavily influenced by the habits and trends formed during lockdowns. 

Ecommerce Takes Over

office supply retailers increased revenueBigger companies have traditionally held accounts with office supply businesses, including the big-box supply stores such as Office Depot and Staples. With the rise of Amazon and other eCommerce businesses, these in-person retailers have seen year-over-year revenue declines since as early as 2005. The mass office closures and cutbacks caused by the pandemic response continued to drop industry revenues by as much as six percent in 2020.

Now, however, companies are ramping up productivity with eyes firmly back on revenue growth. And with that refocus, there is also a need to replace, update, or expand office equipment and supply availability. This should mean big money for office supply retailers. But rather than returning to prior vendors and purchasing habits, many offices are implementing their newly acquired preference of buying strictly online. So, while supply stores saw a smaller decline in 2021 (0.9%), slowing in-store purchases remains a problem.

Online office supply retailers, however, are seeing a significant boost. According to NPD, eCommerce office supply sales grew eighteen percent year-over-year in 2021. And 2021, sales were seventy-seven percent higher than in 2019. NPD’s executive director and office supplies industry analyst have noted e-commerce’s share of core office supplies, and stationery categories have stayed around twenty-seven to twenty-eight percent. That number is up around eleven points since pre-pandemic.

Growth for Office Electronics

Supplies such as paper, ink, toner, and writing implements are not the only things to see increased sales and interest. As office work returns or transforms, there is also a new demand for the equipment needed to keep work running smoothly. As a result, the sale of office electronics such as computers, tablets, and even printers grew ninety-five percent in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic sales.

Some of this growth in electronics sales can be attributed to personal purchases for home offices and schooling. But companies who choose to continue with at-home or even hybrid work are realizing their quick pivot to remote employment in early 2020 did not always include all of the software, security, and hardware necessary to facilitate at-home or hybrid work as a long-term or permanent solution. As a result, offices looking to take advantage of the productivity, employee health, and other benefits realized by the changing employment environment are investing funds to equip their workers properly. These plans include essential changes such as updating equipment, regulating internet and server connectivity, increasing security, and accomodating remote office printing. 

An opportunity for Printer Services

Two factors seem to be feeding into the growth of the office supplies and electronics markets. The first is the need for businesses to re-establish business as usual. The second is the necessity of building out remote spaces for home and hybrid workers. In both cases, the equipment and supplies necessary have changed drastically from the pre-pandemic office space most people remember.

Large printers have, in many cases, given way to smaller and more efficient models to serve lower in-office employee numbers. Rather than less secure consumer-grade printers, many companies are selecting to equip remote workers with smaller, networked desktop printers such as the A3 and A4 models many popular manufacturers now carry. But these equipment purchases mean an ongoing need for ink, toner, and paper. All of these items are things many small businesses used to get from major office supply stores and now scramble to find with other online retailers.

Fortunately, businesses are still in the process of figuring out their supply pipelines and budgets for their “new normal.” But unfortunately, office administration and IT do not always have the expertise to properly determine the best printer configuration and capabilities for a single office, much less for equipping a large number of remote locations. Adding to the trouble are the logistics of providing equipment and ongoing supplies. 

Printer leasing, managed services, and office supply providers can seize a part of this industry growth if they pivot quickly to implement robust online sales and eCommerce options. These include supply subscriptions and additional services that make office supply adjustments, tracking, and ordering more straightforward and convenient. Enterprising printing industry professionals should reach out now to help their current and potential partners build out their vision for the new office structure.

With the current mass return to work, the office supply industry is experiencing the boom it needs. However, printing and office supply industry businesses that fail to see the new trends and take advantage of the opportunities in eCommerce sales and supply delivery will be at a fast disadvantage. Now is the time for printer leasing and managed print services businesses to pull in a piece of this unprecedented growth opportunity.