The writing instruments industry underwent dramatic changes in the 1980s and 1990s with the introduction of the personal computer in the late 1970s. Moving into the new century, and with technology rapidly being integrated into our daily routines, Euromonitor International examines how the writing instruments industry has tackled these challenges.
Demand for writing instruments experienced a dip over 2008/2009 due to the economic downturn. Although growth recovered thereafter, it remained relatively weak and further slowed in 2010 for various reasons.
Pens: % Growth Rate Per Capita in Retail Value
Source: Euromonitor International
Tablets in schools
The introduction of tablets proved to be an instant hit with consumers. Apple’s iPad accounts for a three-quarter share of the world’s tablet market and is forecast to continue to dominate tablet sales until 2015. Governments around the world are exploring ways to integrate this technology into their education systems.
In a Bangkok school, paper and pencils have recently been replaced by tablet computers in a Grade 1 Thai language class. This is one of five preliminary schools in different provinces of the country involved in a pilot project reviewing the impact of tablet use and offering recommendations and guidelines for future tablet use. Starting in May 2012, a total of 900,000 tablets will be distributed to Grade 1 students. Thailand is one of the many countries, including South Korea, Brunei, the US, Australia, India and the UK, that are moving towards a paperless education system. To further tap into this potential, Apple launched the iBook 2, a software application that enables teachers to create and distribute content via the iPad.
E-books and bookstores
The 40-year-old global bookstore giant, Borders filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011. Borders closed 200 of its 642 stores and laid off many staff in the weeks following the announcement. Borders has struggled with losses for years as it has tried to adapt to a changing industry. More people are buying books and stationery online and as e-readers began to take off, Barnes & Noble created its own signature product, the Nook, to compete against Amazon’s Kindle. Borders carried at least six e-book devices, none of which have gained significant traction compared to Kindle and Nook.
Creating new demand
With the increasing trend towards a paperless world, consumers’ buying patterns are changing, particularly with regards to pens and pencils. However, it is not all doom and gloom for the writing instruments industry. In response to these external threats, the industry is starting to evolve so as to continue to appeal to consumers.
In today’s fast-paced and technology-centric environment, consumers are constantly looking for products which enable them to best express themselves creatively. Stationery manufacturers are fashioning novelty items by incorporating unique designs and attractive packaging into their products. Slim, bejewelled pens are being targeted at working women and bright, multi-coloured pen sets at schoolgirls, while pens with voice recording capabilities are targeting journalists. In addition, decorative masking tape is currently a huge hit in Japan, with consumers using this on greetings cards and business cards, and even to decorate toilets.
The retail scene
Retailers are also transforming their traditional bookshops into speciality stationery stores that offer unique and colourful craft products.
With technology catapulting changes in today’s society, companies need to recognise these shifts and adapt their strategies. It would certainly be helpful to examine the mistakes that is occurring in other markets. Comprehending the attributes that enable a successful operation to thrive during such technological disruption will help businesses adjust their marketing strategies accordingly.