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Staples to launch a better e-commerce site tomorrow

February 28, 2005

Staples is slated to launch their newly-completed e-commerce website tomorrow.

"We did some work trying to figure out what would help us differentiate ourselves from competitors," said Brian Light, executive vice president of Staples Business Delivery. "Customers didn't know there was any difference between us. Our prices were similar; our stores looked pretty much the same. We weren't very comfortable with that."

After redesigning the paper catalog, rearranging stores and adding stock, Staples looked to its Web site as the next way to deliver on "Easy," the company's "brand promise."

"Our Web site was good, but not any better than the other guys'," Light said. "So we figured out what translates to easy on the Web."

Staples says it's the fifth-largest e-commerce site, and it spent two years of intensive research into customer needs before Monday's relaunch.

One tool Staples employed was "customer personas," descriptions of customer types that can be used to drive design and marketing decisions. Staples personnel rode with drivers, visited customers' jobsites, watched telephone customer service reps and held focus groups to get a sense of how they ordered products. Drawing from a 35,000-member consumer panel, the company surveyed more than 5,000 customers to find out what would make the Web site work better.

After the team segmented customers into seven customer personas, it analyzed the segments to find out which were the most profitable.

The site now makes it easier to order. It keeps track of previous orders, whether placed online, on the telephone or by fax, so customers can simply repeat them, with the option to reorder some or all items on the list. It suggests other products needed to make a selected item work. For example, someone buying a printer will be reminded to buy a cable.

Both customer types would love to re-order or revise previous orders, the usability experts found. The new site puts "my account" among other tabs at the top of the page, letting the user quickly access a list of previous orders that can be sorted by date or total amount.

"It enabled people on the Staples side to better relate to the people they're making decisions for," Hynes said.

Staples' usability team worked with the consumer panel to streamline the product categories.

"By decreasing the amount of categories, we were able to decrease the time it took for people to find products and increased the perception of ease of use," said Colin Hynes, Staples director of usability. For example, Staples consolidated two categories," telephones & 2-way radios" and "wireless & cellular," into "telephone & communication."

"We think we've applied the most-customer centric process ever to this Web site release," Hynes said.

Source: Internet News

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