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Staples preps easier e-commerce site

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Staples plans to soon relaunch the Staples.com e-commerce site as it extends its new "Easy" brand promise to its online business.

The site, which brought in almost $3 billion in revenue last year, was revamped over two years in a process that included lengthy research and a reworking of the site's layout, look and functionality.

"It's not just about energetic colors or the look and feel of the buttons," said Brian Light, exec VP of Staples Business Delivery, the $4.5 billion unit that includes Staples.com and the company's catalog business.

Light said the new design reinforces the company's brand positioning. Staples recently launched an ad campaign, called "Easy Button," that included a spot during last month's broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIX. The campaign, developed by McCann Erickson, shows how shopping at Staples is as easy as pressing a button and has its tagline "Staples. That was easy."

"The Web site wasn't as easy as we wanted it to be," said Colin Hynes, Staples.com's director of usability. What started out as a product page redesign to make the purchase process simpler for customers evolved into a complete overhaul of the entire site. "When you [redesign product pages], you are affecting many other pages around the site," Hynes said. "It was inevitable that once we started the project, we couldn't just update that one page on the site."

Small-business core

The revamp also underscores Staples' small-business focus. The company said its research showed that small businesses are its core customers and generate its most profitable sales. "As a result of `Easy,' and a result of the focus on small business, we expect to grow our business more quickly than we have in the past few years," Light said.

Staples wanted the online experience to match its customers' catalog experience. "The catalog has raced ahead of our Web site," Light said. "We're getting the Web site up to speed to match the catalog."

The idea was to build product pages around the way customers shop, including how they shop off-line. To do that, it needed to define its customers and analyze their buying behavior on the site.

The lengthy research process involved studying the "life of an order," segmenting customers into "personas," product hierarchy analysis and extensive usability testing. Life of an order research was conducted by researchers in the field who studied customers' order processes closely from start to finish, including riding in the truck to deliver the product.

The information gleaned gave Staples a much better understanding of customers and enabled the company to add contextual selling on the site. Staples said integrating related products dynamically, akin to Amazon.com's personalization functionality, will enhance the site experience and boost sales.

Identifying customer segments also played a big role in the redesign. Staples categorized the different kinds of shopping behavior into seven different "personas." It then overlaid purchase behaviors on those data to determine which customers contribute the most to the bottom line and tailored its marketing strategies on the site accordingly.

"Persona research was critical to the Staples.com redesign," Hynes said.

Hierarchy analysis helped Staples streamline office supply and technology categories, which resulted in users locating products more quickly. The number of office supply categories dropped from 24 to 16, and technology categories were pared from 25 to 17. "Navigation is a major portion of it," Hynes said.

Staples has added important functionality to the revamped site. Since many customers reorder the same products over and over, they will be able to access past online, catalog and fax orders, with the option to reorder items on the list with one keystroke.

"It decreased time for the user to locate a category and reduced pogo-sticking [from one area of the site to another to find something]," Hynes said. "It increased their perception of ease of use."

Staples also integrated content that gives customers access to more category-specific product information. For example, its Learn About pages provide suggested storage solutions to organize the workplace.

Finally, research indicated that catalogs sent through direct mail were driving more sales online. Staples mails 50 million catalogs a year. "We get many more sales online from those customers receiving [catalogs]," Light said. That finding should enable Staples to develop innovative ways for the two channels to work in tandem to enhance the customer experience even further, he said. M

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