Luke Hatkinson-Kent, picks up his pen, puts paper clips to one side, and writes about the state of the UK stationery market.
Anyone who has managed an office will know that stationery can be an often underestimated overhead. Paper, pens, and other stationery accessories are something just about everybody uses in their workplace, but doesn't really think of as a major cost because the individual pieces are typically low value items. However, businesses often look to cut costs on things like paper usage, and the increasingly digital nature of how people work has meant that many traditional stationery items a company would order are needed less and less.
Some businesses are now completely paperless, and individual ways of working that favour tablets and mobile devices over diaries and notepads have meant many of us use far fewer pens, notebooks, highlighters, staples and other office supplies that were previously pretty essential.
As you might imagine, this has led to some significant changes in the UK stationery industry itself.
Many Stationery Companies StrugglingA recent study by Plimsoll showed that many companies involved in the stationery sector in the UK are struggling to some degree, with 183 businesses in the industry in Britain listed as in need of a survival plan. Their study looked at businesses of all sizes in office supplies, and while it did find 426 that were doing well according to their indices and metrics, they found 183 in immediate danger and 77 who would be advised to make some changes sooner rather than later.
In many cases, the problems stationery companies face are both keeping up with a changing market, and seeing off advances in the market from major brands like Amazon.
Amazon Attempts to Dominate UK StationeryOne of the biggest players in the stationery retail industry is, as in just about every other retail industry, Amazon. Back in April Amazon launched its Amazon Business website in a bid to win over businesses small and large from their current suppliers. In general, businesses prefer to order stationery from B2B companies that specialise in providing these supplies to companies and have ordering facilities geared toward business purchasing. This meant that while people purchasing stationery for personal use might buy it on Amazon, they were not able to gain the part of the market that want a business service. This was the idea behind the Amazon Business service and site.
Amazon Business had already been active in the USA since 2015, and in its first year there made $800 million in sales and won 400,000 businesses as customers. Amazon is able to offer ease of ordering and speed of delivery that smaller retailers can't match, and of course can keep prices down due to massive economies of scale. While Amazon Business has created jobs, with the American based firm planning to create 5000 new roles in its UK workforce in 2017 (taking the total number of UK based Amazon employees to 24k), it has put a squeeze on office supply and stationery businesses who can't match their service.
Suppliers Taking Advantage of the New LandscapeOf course, while smaller businesses in the stationery sector may not be able to compete when selling directly to clients, what they can do is enter into Amazon's business model and sell through them. This may well be an option many choose, and will only strengthen Amazon further. Those concerned with the stock market and things like CFDs may well be interested to see how the launch of Amazon Business changes this market and brings more businesses into Amazon's web, no doubt increasing their worth as the new site wins customers and suppliers and reports its first performance data.
The stationery industry is certainly one that is changing, both in terms of demand, and supply.