Office and stationery sector performance throughout the ‘year of the remote office’

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With most offices closed, at least for a significant chunk of 2020, it comes as no surprise that the office and stationery sector has seen some peaks and troughs throughout the year...

Since March, with the exception of essential workers, the majority of the population has been forced to work from home to minimise the impacts of the pandemic on the NHS.

With most offices closed, at least for a significant chunk of 2020, it comes as no surprise that the office and stationery sector has seen some peaks and troughs throughout the year, as can be seen below.

Where traditionally we’d see a small incline towards the end of Q1, as news of the pandemic broke out and the majority of consumers were advised to work from home, orders for office and stationery supplies naturally plummeted as would be anticipated.

Steve Schmidt, former president of Office Depot International, expects that there will be growth online. While he believes that with the majority of the globe working from home, fewer office products will be required, he stated, “it [the dot com business] will probably grow because employees working from home will likely drive some consumption”.

It’s expected that the peaks seen are likely to be employees purchasing computer and printer supplies to carry on daily tasks at home with minimal interruption.

In the above graph, we can see three significant peaks following the initial decline. Looking deeper into the guidance at the time, there is a direct correlation between the Government announcements and the peaks and troughs this industry has seen throughout 2020.

At the end of April, the Government issued an update regarding how we can make life in the workplace safer, which sparked increases in orders of office supplies, as workplaces were preparing to re-open.

Following this, by the end of June when lockdown restrictions were eased and life began to go somewhat back to normal, with people being allowed to return to work and day-to-day life (to an extent), we saw a peak in sales in July.

Finally, on the 24th August, guidance was released on ‘back to school’, triggering an increase in stationary supplies in preparation for the term to start, driving the peak seen in September.

We’re also anticipating a traditional peak in October and November as people are preparing for the new year.

As we have been advised to remain indoors for the majority of 2020, screen time has naturally increased. We expect that this will continue to influence an increase in the desire for more analogue activities over the coming months.

What's next for the stationery and office supplies?

With the UK currently in lockdown, we expect that we will continue to see a slow but steady increase in office supplies and stationery sales. We also anticipate that this peak could extend into Q1 2021 - as the furlough scheme has been extended into March of next year, it is suggested that the nation could be in various states of lockdown until then, driving further increases in the sales of stationery and office supplies.

With schools remaining open in the colder seasons, there is opportunity for the virus to spread further between youths. If this is the case, isolations could drive the anticipated peak for stationery and office supplies even further on an upwards trajectory.

Looking forward to 2021, as people are preparing for the New Year and holding on to hope for some normality in the near future, returning to the office as normal which will spike sales in office supplies and stationery as offices re-open.

How can arts and crafts retailers prep for the coming months?

  • Utilise your data
    Each retailer has a plethora of insight to fall back on from the last number of years, combined with the worst and best case scenario from throughout 2020. Utilising your data to inform strategic decisions is critical, particularly to scale your stock and inform your marketing message - only you know best what your customers want.

  • Revisit your messaging
    While offices and schools have reopened for the most part, it would be wise to also consider the inclusion of some at-home messaging for parents/carers/guardians who are responsible for children who have been sent home to work in isolation due to the virus.

  • Bundles
    Especially from those parents-turned teachers this year, work-from-home or teach-from-home education packs could become really useful in the coming months, particularly in the colder months when we expect schools may report increasing cases of symptomatic students who would then have to isolate with their families.

  • Maintain your ad spend wherever possible
    It’s now more critical than ever to maintain ad spend wherever possible. With more online users than ever before, if you pull back on your marketing now, you risk losing out on brand new users as you may lose out to competitors.

  • Marketplaces
    It has been reported that Amazon has doubled their profits in 2020, highlighting how reliant consumers have become on marketplaces throughout the pandemic. Ensuring you are placing your products on marketplaces will ensure you are not missing out on possible sales.

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