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SHOOTOUT: Mail Boxes Etc. may lose Web site contest, but not franchisees

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Name recognition proved to be the determining factor despite online achievements in the August Marketing Shoot-out. We asked 75 WebScore panelists to evaluate two Web sites promoting company franchise programsÅ"Mail Boxes Etc. and PostNet. The panelists were asked to look at the sites from the perspective of someone who has decided to open a postal and business services franchise.

We asked our panelists to tell us three things: Which site they prefer, which program seems more attractive based on the Web site's content and with which company would they be more likely to open a franchise.

`Sophisticated' PostNet site preferred

Overall, the panelists preferred http://www.postnet.net to http://www.mbe.com 46-29 in terms of the Web site itself. The consensus was that the PostNet site has a more sophisticated design and more comprehensive information, while the Mail Boxes Etc. site has a simpler design and more concise information.

The major determining factor was personal preference.

Typical comments for panelists who preferred PostNet's site were: "The site was more professional in delivery and appearance. The frames setup was easier to utilize, and the breakdown of topics was more logical. The graphics were well organized, clear and highly dramatic in color."

Panelists who preferred Mail Boxes Etc. said things such as, "Mail Boxes Etc. is more pleasing to the eye, more exciting and friendly, much better color and graphic representation."

The WebScore panelists were asked how the two compared in terms of content about their franchise programs. We specifically asked them which program has better information, seems easier to get started in, and has more interesting opportunities and a friendlier tone.

Forty-two panelists said PostNet has a better program, while 33 preferred Mail Boxes Etc.

Loyalty to sites

Of the people who preferred PostNet's site, 40 also liked PostNet's franchise program better, while six opted for Mail Boxes Etc.'s plan.

Twenty-seven of the panelists who thought Mail Boxes Etc. has a better site also chose Mail Boxes Etc.'s franchise program. Two people in this group preferred PostNet's franchise program.

One of the panelists who liked the Mail Boxes Etc. program said, "Mail Boxes seemed to concentrate more on the amount of help they provide with opening a franchise. They claim to offer extensive help in getting started, from financing and training to site location. They appeared to be a friendly organization with a tremendous amount of help for opening a franchise."

A lot of PostNet info

Another said that "PostNet gave out too much information, more specifically franchise costs and so on. Everything is negotiable. MBE was short and to the point."

Still, a PostNet fan said, "PostNet had much more information available on the Web, with the details included. By going to their Web site, I knew in about 90 seconds what the approximate cost would be, what services they would provide for me, and what the ongoing costs [royalties] would be. MBE had none of this information that I could find. Their site was much vaguer and general about what the costs and services provided were. PostNet also had more personal anecdotes, and generally worked harder at convincing you to join them."

Winner takes all

When we asked the panelists which franchise they would be more likely to choose, 37 chose Mail Boxes Etc., 36 picked PostNet and two said neither one.

Twenty-six panelists chose Mail Boxes Etc. as the company with the best site, best franchise program, and as the company with which they would rather open a franchise; 35 panelists felt the same way about PostNet.

Of the two panelists who prefer Mail Boxes Etc.'s Web site and PostNet's franchise program, one would rather open a Mail Boxes Etc. franchise, the other, PostNet.

Of the WebScore panelists who prefer the PostNet site and the Mail Boxes Etc. franchise program, all six said they would rather open a Mail Boxes Etc. franchise.

For the two panelists who said that they would not open a franchise with either company, one was a Mail Boxes Etc. fan for the site and franchise program, the other was a PostNet fan.

Mail Boxes wins franchisees

A surprise was that there were four panelists who prefer PostNet's site and franchise program, but would still open a Mail Boxes Etc. franchise.

One panelist best expressed the attitude of the people who prefer to do business with Mail Boxes Etc.: "I believe name recognition is important, and Mail Boxes Etc. definitely has the advantage in this department over PostNet (which, frankly, I've never heard of until today!). In short, I'd choose Mail Boxes over PostNet for the same reason I'd choose McDonald's over Harvey's: Name recognition, market leadership, potential for profitability and corporate support."

Lynda Frohman is director of online services for New York-based CLT Research Associates, which offers the WebScore service. She can be e-mailed at lynda@cltresearch.com.

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