December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Beyond the paperclip

By Rick Markley

Editor in Chief

Staples.com, run as a separate entity from Staples Inc., spent the past year stretching the boundaries of business supply and distancing itself from the competition. The company is looking to make itself the hub of small-business information and purchasing.

The online version of the office-supply giant plays on the company’s offline strengths. The site offers 45,000 SKUs and 100,000 downloadable software titles. The products range from paper, pens and copier toner to furniture, small appliances and bottled water. Staples allows users to create a favorite shopping aisle or favorite items to speed their shopping. It also offers discount pages (weekly specials and furniture deals). However, the discounts are not automatically tallied at checkout; shoppers must remember and enter a five-digit coupon code to get the discount. But the site excels in ways it keeps visitors coming back and staying.

In March, Staples.com launched its business service center. The service center gathers 20,000 vendors covering 80 services, such as legal and insurance, sales and marketing and financial management. Users can submit a request for bids online then select a provider. Staples.com says it uses its more than 7 million small business customers to leverage cheaper service costs.

Although Staples.com is a separate stock from the parent company, the two integrate retail services-making for a stronger web presence. Items ordered online can be returned either by calling or emailing for pickup or at a physical store. The site uses the visitor’s ZIP code and a real-time inventory system to let shoppers know which products can be delivered to their area. Staples is also planning to install kiosks in its stores.

“It’s a well-organized site; the design is straightforward and not over done,” says Will Ander a partner with McMillian Doolittle. “This shows that an experienced retailer has developed the site and its strategy and positioning.”

Staples.com

Framingham, Mass.

Monthly visitors: 180,000+ in Q2

Sales: $95.7 million in Q2

Went live: November 1998

Design by: TVision & Sapient

OS: Microsoft

E-C Software: Microsoft

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