February 2, 2012, 11:11 AM

Staples creates an e-commerce site for tablet users

The site, which debuts next week, emphasizes visual navigation so consumers can avoid typing.

Lead Photo

Staples Inc. will launch a web site designed exclusively for tablet computer users early next week. Consumers who try to access Staples.com using a tablet will automatically be routed to the tablet site, which will exist at t.staples.com, the company says.

The design for the tablet site is meant to be very “touch and go” says Staples’ director of mobile strategy Prat Vemana. Consumers will be able to navigate to popular product categories on the site from the home page quickly by tapping on oversized visual images or drop-down menus with large areas to tap so fat-fingered consumers don’t mistakenly tap an option they don’t want. The three categories that get the largest visual treatment are what Staples’ calls its core products: ink and toner; paper, notebooks and PostIt notes; and binders, folders and organizers. After tapping on the paper, notebooks and Post-its category image the consumer then views more subcategory options to refine their search.

The tablet site is purposely designed to keep customers from having to type anything because the touchscreen keyboard, when expanded, takes up nearly half the screen size on most tablets and Vermana says that’s valuable real estate. “Consumers should be able to navigate throughout the site without the keyboard coming up,” Vemana says.

The tablet design is different than the regular Staples.com site. There, the core categories noted above are the first three categories listed among more than 20 that appear in the left-hand navigation. When hovered over with a mouse cursor, those categories also use flyout windows to show dozens of subcategory options. The tablet site had to be different because tablet touchscreens don’t register hovers.

Consumers who use the tablet site can also quickly access sale items through a “hot deals” tab or by tapping a weekly ad prompt. They also can check how many points they have available to redeem if they participate in Staple’s loyalty program, Staples Rewards.

Staples developed the site with mobile technology provider Skava Inc., which also hosts the tablet site. Staples says consumer research it conducted showed that the time is now right to launch a separate site for tablet users. “People want to be able to easily navigate the site, for it to be more touch-friendly and visually engaging,” Vemana says. “They also want to be able to quickly navigate it like on the desktop site.”

In addition to Staples.com, the e-retailer already has a web site optimized for smartphones and apps for iPhone and Android phones. Last week it announced that it will open what it calls an E-Commerce Innovation Center in Cambridge, MA, which will house teams focused on designing and deploying e-commerce tools and features to serve Staples’ customers.  Staples is No. 2 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

Staples’ vice president of e-commerce and business development Brian Tilzer will explain why the e-retailer is investing big in mobile commerce at the Internet Retailer 2012 Conference and Exhibition in Chicago in June.

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