SHOOTOUT: OfficeMax brand beats out equally excellent BT site

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If two web sites are equally excellent in their design and programming, what makes one a better tool for selling products? The answer may lie in a name.

For this month's Marketing Shoot-out, we asked 76 WebScore panelists to imagine themselves the office manager of a small but growing business. They shopped the online catalog at the Web sites of two major office supply companies.

One of the two, OfficeMax, is a national retail chain. The other, BT Office Products, markets itself exclusively to corporate customers.

We asked our respondents to select which Web site they would prefer for ordering supplies. We also asked them to compare the two sites in a number of other site-specific areas, including easiest catalog to use, best online help and instructions, largest selection of products, lowest prices, best features apart from the catalog and best overall site.

OfficeMax wins every category

OfficeMax was the winner in every category -- usually by a large margin. Of the 76 respondents, 67% felt OfficeMax has the better Web site overall, while 75% would order their supplies from OfficeMax rather than BT Office Products if they were office managers.

The closest BT came to victory was in the vote for largest selection; even here, however, OfficeMax garnered 61% of the vote.

In spite of our panelists' overwhelming inclination to order supplies from the OfficeMax Web site, there is no direct point of leverage traceable to OfficeMax's advantage. On the contrary, many of the reasons cited by those who chose OfficeMax and those who preferred BT Office Products were the same.

The top five advantages of the OfficeMax site, as volunteered by respondents, were ease of navigating from page to page, ease of using the site, visual appeal, lower prices and greater selection.

Three of these factors -- ease of use, ease of navigation and visual appeal -- were also among the top five advantages cited by panelists who preferred the BT Office Products site.

If the two Web sites have many of the same strengths, then why did OfficeMax win so handily? The explanation probably is due to our survey respondents' greater familiarity with OfficeMax.

OfficeMax more visible

Unlike BT Office Products, which sells only to businesses, OfficeMax operates many retail stores across the country and pursues highly visible consumer advertising efforts.

Since most our WebScore panelists are not actual office managers, it is reasonable to assume they are more favorably inclined toward the company that targets them as customers.

In this regard, six respondents stated that reputation was one of the reasons they preferred OfficeMax, while another four mentioned their proximity to a retail location. Presumably, a certain number were also influenced unconsciously by these factors.

Despite a large portion of BT's Web site being dedicated to demonstrating BT's reputation as a trustworthy company, only one panelist said BT Office Products' good name influenced her vote for the BT Web site.

Offline marketing advantage

To further demonstrate OfficeMax's comparative advantage in

offline marketing, consider that seven panelists said they would order from OfficeMax even though they felt BT Office Products has the better Web site.

Six of the seven said price was a factor; even though they would rather order from BT, they said they would choose OfficeMax in order to be responsible with their company's budget.

"If I were spending my [personal] money," one asserted, "I'd go with BT Office."

The reasons these seven preferred BT Office Product's Web site, on the other hand, were mostly technical.

Four said BT Office Product's site has a faster response time, three felt it is easier to navigate and two said the text is easier to read.

Unlike previous Shoot-outs, where our panelists' familiarity with the site sponsors were not as likely to affect results, such considerations may have influenced this month's findings.

Lowell Allen is director of online services for New York-based CLT Research Associates, which offers the WebScore service. He can be reached at

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