December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

A head for business

Office Depot stands apart in the paper chase for the tools and services it provides to its target audience-small and home-based businesses. Click on “Office Solutions” and you can download a slew of model documents, forms, policies and financial templates. There’s even a small business handbook where entrepreneurs can brush up on everything from motivating employees to controlling taxes and crunching budgets.

Granted, office products may not be the sexiest online category-or have the most attractive sites, but who wants to drive across town for paper clips?

When it comes to merchandise, there are probably more similarities than differences among the three superstore Web sites (Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples). Yet Office Depot has spent more money on systems, which should give its Web site an upper hand, says Ursula Moran, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in New York. Others praise Office Depot for providing in-depth information about products, which helps if you’re uncertain about what kind of paper to feed your laser printer.

Office Depot plans a major redesign next year to improve content management and add its first real personalization features, says Keith Butler, vice president of Office Depot Online. Among new features will be Ask Jeeves, the natural-language search tool that allows shoppers without a degree in library science to easily probe products and content.

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