November 21, 2009, 12:00 AM

Office Supplies

Retailers take the stress out of office supply shopping

  Shopping for office supplies can be taxing, particularly since there is a surfeit of options for just about anything. Want a rollerball pen? Staples Inc. offers 25 choices. There’s fine point, needle point, extra-fine point and medium point. Black ink, blue ink or red ink. Or would you prefer an assortment pack? Regular or recycled plastic?

The point is, buying office supplies can be complex. The four office supply retailers that earned Hot 100 recognition did so because they’ve designed their web sites to make it easier for consumers and office managers to find exactly what they’re looking for.

At Staples.com, for instance, the company introduced a desktop widget that offers special deals, weekly ads, a store finder tool, and an ink and toner refill feature. There’s now a question-and-answer tab on product pages that allows shoppers to read through the questions that other customers asked about an item-or to ask their own. Employees and other shoppers submit answers.

OfficeDepot.com’s April redesign aimed to make the site more intuitive. The retailer introduced fly-out navigation categories, with the most popular subcategories highlighted to help shoppers get to a desired location on the site without extra clicks. For shoppers inclined to use the site’s search feature, the retailer added suggested terms. “Our objective was usability,” says Monica Luechtefeld, executive vice president of e-commerce and direct marketing.

Navigation has also been fine-tuned at rival OfficeMax.com. Shoppers can search for a printer by how they print-home use, photo printing or heavier workloads-or by the type of printer they prefer-laser or inkjet, stand-alone printer or a combo device. And there’s an easy way to search for ink for more than 100 brands of printers.

While Staples, Office Depot and OfficeMax target mainstream office supplies buyers, Sayeh Pezeshki created SortingwithStyle.com as a place where office drones can dress up and personalize their work spaces. But, while Pezeshki sells products like file folders splashed in pink or Zebra stripes, she still strives to make it simple for shoppers to find the designs they want. The site is clean and uncluttered, and allows customers to search by style and collection, as well as by product category.


OfficeDepot.com
Less is more

When Office Depot Inc. launched its web site redesign in April, it had a simple goal-make the site more user-friendly. “We wanted it to be faster, easier and more intuitive,” says Monica Luechtefeld, executive vice president of e-commerce and direct marketing. Out went cluttered ad tiles and banners. In came simple, clean hero banners and fly-out top-navigation categories, with the most popular subcategories highlighted. The office supplies retailer added suggested terms to its site search to help shoppers get to products faster. It also enhanced the site’s product comparison feature, allowing users to click a box at the top of product listings to compare products side by side. “Usability was the key,” says Luechtefeld. “We didn’t want to make our customers have to learn how to use the site.”


 OfficeMax.com
No wasted motion

Because Office Max.com customers have long shopping lists and little time, the e-commerce site of office supplies chain OfficeMax Inc. provides many ways to shop right from the home page. Mousing over five major categories in the top navigation bar reveals many subcategories. Down the right side of the page are more popular categories, such as computers and digital cameras. The center of the page features more than a dozen bestselling products. Major brands are listed across the bottom so shoppers can go right to Sharpie products, for instance. Top-of-page tabs let customers order by product number. But OfficeMax.com is not all business. Its fourth annual “Elf Yourself” promotion-allowing visitors to add their photos to electronic dancing elf greeting cards-now ties into Facebook and Twitter.


SortingWithStyle.com
Colorful business

At Sorting withStyle, it’s all about dressing up and personalizing office space. Founder and CEO Sayeh Pezeshki has a flair for combining elegance in both product and web page design-with timely input from consumers through online social media. “Our products are all geared to having a more fun and stylish work environment,” she says. Selling products like stationery, mouse pads and USB hubs, SortingwithStyle competes against major retailers. But using social networking input from Twitter and other sites to keep up with what customers want-like folders splashed in pink or Zebra stripes-Pezeshki has developed a site that is stylishly uncluttered and that makes it easy for shoppers to find the designs they want, whether that’s an animal print, a floral pattern or a “not so basic black.”


Staples.com
Easy is a staple

Office supplies retailer Staples Inc. wants its core customers, small business owners, to say “That was easy” after shopping at Staples.com or the chain’s stores. Staples.com this summer added a question-and-answer feature to make it easier for customers to retrieve product information online. Both employees and shoppers answer queries. Staples offers a desktop widget with special deals, weekly ads, a store finder tool, and an ink and toner refill feature. Customers on the go can access weekly offers at Staples.com or get them by e-mail. Staples promotes cross-channel shopping by allowing consumers to order custom printed items online for pickup in store four hours later and by e-mailing store shoppers coupons for web purchases, drawing on customer data from its rewards program.
Site Performance
Performance measured by Gomez Inc.
Availability: 99.95%
Response time: 1.9264
Consistency score: Good

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