How stationery is thriving in the digital age

You’d think that the rise of digitisation and the subsequent “paperless office” would have sounded the death knell for stationery. But for every trend there is often a countertrend. In the case of stationery, this has seen the rise of premium and personalised products.

The rise of the home office

In developing countries, the number of recognised educational institutions and student enrolment in academic institutions has increased. The rise of education in emerging markets is seeing the growth of conventional stationery materials, and these markets are predicted to drive global growth of stationery overall.

In mature markets, conventional stationery is typically declining, albeit kept somewhat afloat by the rise of home-based businesses and offices.

However, in mature markets there has been a persistent increase in the sale of personalised, premium, and design-led stationery, particularly writing and drawing instruments and accessories. In the stationery-mad UK, according to Verdict’s UK stationery market report 2016-2021, the category grew 3.2 per cent in a five-year period, with writing instruments increasing by 5.8 per cent. Demand for personalised pens is increasing.

In Australia, according to IbisWorld’s March 2019 Stationery Goods Retailing report, the growing demand for custom-made and “fashion-based” stationery offered by the likes of kikki.K, Smiggle and Typo has offset the decline in other stationery category segments.

The search for authenticity

A number of factors are behind the rise of premium and personalised products. The macro trends of artisanship and authenticity, coupled with the inexorable rise of digital “writing”, has resulted in a form of digital fatigue expressed by a return to traditional communication methods and creative outlets. Journalling, sketching and doodling have all grown as pastimes.

The use of digital communications for everyday communications has seen the rise of handwritten communications to impart “specialness” and meaning, elevated by premium or custom stationery. Gifting occasionality has seen stationery take the role of keepsake, exemplified by the Smiggle and kikki.K presence in airports.

Japan is seeing an increase in sales of its traditional handmade washi paper and pencil tapes by tourists. In this stationery-obsessed country, there are hundreds of stationery manufacturers, retailers can stock 10,000 stationery items in a store and the headquarters for the International Stationery and Office Products Fair is in Tokyo. 

The rise of stationery chains

UK-founded Paperchase has in recent years expanded into Europe, the US and the United Arab Emirates. As well as standalone stores, in the UK there are concessions in selected Selfridges and House of Fraser stores. Paperchase had concessions in all UK locations of the now-defunct Borders. It is renowned for its fun and unusual items such as rose-gold staplers, banana-shaped pencil cases and giant sausage-dog erasers.

The UK stationery market has been a happy hunting ground for Australian retailers. In a case of coals to Newcastle, several Australian stationery chains are now exported to the UK and elsewhere.

Originating in Melbourne in 2001, Swedish-inspired kikki.K now boasts 102 stores including standalone stores in the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand. It is stocked in a further 250 stores including Nordstrom in the US and John Lewis, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, and Harrods in the UK. It sells online in 147 countries.

The Cotton On-owned Typo, founded in Victoria in 2009 and dubbed a lifestyle brand, entered the UK market in 2015. It now numbers 250 stores in 14 countries including South Africa, Thailand, the UAE and the Philippines.

Children’s stationery brand Smiggle is another founded in Melbourne – it is now owned by the Just Group.  With more 100 stores in Australia, it has expanded to the UK, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Homewares retailers get in on the act

The rise of stationery as a fashion and lifestyle category has sparked the interest of non-stationery retailers, including homewares retailers such as Muji, and notably discount department stores. In Australia, Kmart has put substantial effort into its stationery range.

In the US, a brand called Sugar Paper which has become popular with celebrities, has exclusive lines in Target USA, including seasonal holiday collections. Launched in 2003, Sugar Paper is carried in more than 800 stores worldwide. Its revenue has doubled in the past five years, with online sales experiencing double-digit growth rates. The company also has several own-branded store locations in the US.

Online gets physical

It’s not just about franchise chains and large retailers, however. Online stationery specialists are doing well, particularly in the UK where, according to Verdict’s report, 9.7 per cent of stationery is purchased online.

Several online players have opened physical stores, such as the UK’s Present & Correct, launched online in 2008 and now with a physical store in London and a sizeable Twitter and Instagram following. Papersmiths sells curated collections, both online and from its two physical stores in Bristol and London.

Ohh Deer, founded in an attic in 2011, now represents nearly 50 artists and has range collaborations with Urban Outfitters and Asos, and is stocked in John Lewis and Paperchase.

Other UK online stationery specialists include Counter-Print, Nook, Mark + Fold (which specialises in special papers and bindings), Tools to Live By,and The Journal Shop – particularly for Japanese is the range of washi tape and Kawaii stationery. Fox & Star is home to more Japanese washi tapes. “All Things Stationery” blogger Tessa Sowry has opened an online store called, naturally, The Stationer.

Australia boasts Milligram, which stocks brands including the venerable Italian Moleskine, Delfonics, Lamy and Rhodia.

A number of online players such as Tom Pigeon began as creative studios for their own handmade products. London-founded Papier, was founded in 2015 based on a perceived gap in the market for highly personalised, on-demand stationery. It prints personalised paper products and recently launched a dedicated Australian printing facility. Papier’s business quadrupled from 2017 to 2018, further demonstrating the rise of the premium and personal in stationery.


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