November 30, 2005, 12:00 AM

Mass Merchants/Department Stores Boosting the scope of the web as a selling channel

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It has also integrated its web site into its stores, helping to drive more sales. “Office Depot continues to enhance its long-term multi-channel integration strategy by offering customers and employees access to through web-enabled kiosks, which helps drive sales across channels,” says Sunita Gupta, vice president of retail consultants LakeWest Group.

The multi-faceted approach to continuous improvement has pushed historically high conversion rates ever higher in the past year, Maffitt says.
Easy rider


When a web site has a director of usability, it’s a fair bet that it’s focused on making it easy for customers to shop online. No one takes the subject more seriously than, which established a site usability group soon after it launched in the late 1990s.

The group’s full-time job is to test how well responds to customers’ shopping needs, and to find out what those needs are in the first place. To get the job done right, it often goes directly to the source-the customers themselves, in visits to their homes and offices, and in focus groups at Staples facilities. “We think of customers as co-developers of the site,” says Colin Hynes, director of usability and a founding member of the usability group.

As part of a site redesign earlier this year, for instance, Staples involved thousands of customers in an online project that determined the categories in which shoppers most often expect to find products. The project resulted in reducing its number of office supplies categories to 17 from 24 and its number of technology categories to 17 from 25. “So now we can get all categories above the fold on the home page, and they’re more intuitive,” Hynes says. “We’ve found that less is better.”

Instead of asking multiple segments of customers how they order products online, the usability group watches how they place orders in focus groups. “We find out what works for them,” Hynes says. Staples realized, for example, that many shoppers needed reminders to order accessories like cables and ink cartridges when purchasing multi-function machines that print, copy, scan and fax; those machines are now displayed in shopping carts with suggestions for the appropriate accessories.

The re-design has won over industry observers as well as customers. “Staples’ redesign to update its search and navigation features based on different customer types makes shopping faster and easier,” says Sunita Gupta, executive vice president of retail consultants LakeWest Group.

When the site rides on its “Easy” marketing campaign, Staples can back up its promises knowing it has done its homework, Hynes says, noting that conversion rates and profit margins are both up since the redesign. “Staples is really going to stand for ‘easy’,” he says.

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