Going to Staples? Pick Me Up a Packet8!

We had never heard of mass marketing organization acting as a channel for IP-based business phone systems before May of this year, when newly launched Toktumi announced a channel deal with Staples. But the idea seems to be catching on.

Last Thursday, 8×8, Inc., purveyor of Packet8 Virtual Office—a hosted IP phone system for SMBs—made a very similar announcement: the availability of Packet8 Virtual Office equipment and service though Staples’ online operation, Staples.com (here).

These announcements, together with two others—from Syspine and AccessLine, who have recently inked distribution agreements with Costco—strongly suggest that not only are small businesses looking to save money any way they can, but that VoIP’s dreaded reputation as a cranky and unreliable technology may finally be on the wane.

For an operation like Staples to take on a product like hosted iPBX service, it’s gotta believe that the product delivers what it promises—and isn’t going to create a customer support nightmare.

“Staples.com is a central resource that makes it easy for our small business customers to increase their workplace productivity,” said Jessica Forzese-Nichols, product category manager for Staples Business Delivery—calling Packet8 Virtual Office “a great addition” to the online operation’s range of products and services.

8×8 vice president of marketing and sales, Huw Rees, reciprocated the warm words: “We are very pleased to offer Staples customers an opportunity to join the thousands of other small businesses who are saving time and money every month, while increasing worker productivity, by using the Packet8 Virtual Office business phone system,” he said. “In this tough economic climate, enterprises of every size are examining their day to day operating expenses and identifying areas where cost savings could be achieved.”

Packet8 Virtual Office has for some time touted itself as a system that non-technical business customers could install themselves, though technical support—even on-premise installation service—is readily available to those what want or need it.

We think Staples uptake of this product is a pretty strong endorsement of the reliability of the self-installation routine. You can bet they vetted this carefully.

Packet8 Virtual Office extensions don’t have to share a physical location; they can be located anywhere in the world there’s a broadband IP connection. The service provides auto attendant, voicemail, a conference bridge, ring groups, call park/pickup, hold music (or messaging), and free extension dialing, among other PBX features. Each extension also comes with its own DID, which the customer can select from just about any U.S. or Canadian area code.

Staples is knocking $50 off the (retail) $129.99 price of the Packet8 Virtual Office phone package (you buy one such package for each physical phone you want), and providing the first month of service free.

There are various service plans, but the most popular, Unlimited Extension, will cost $39.99 per month (per extension) through Staples.com. It provides unlimited calling in the United States and Canada, unlimited extension dialing worldwide, and free calling within the Packet8 network worldwide. International calling is extra, but inexpensive, around 2 cents per minute for most destinations.

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