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Company: Staples Inc., Framingham, Mass.  Target audience: Small businesses and home offices  Key Web executive: Colin Hynes, director of usability  No. of employees who work on the site:100  Last major redesign: Began 2003, completed July 2005  No. of pages on site: 5,500  Web developer: In-house's Web team had a few directives when it first began its redesign: The site had to be easier to use, and faster to load and update. It also had to address and embrace Staples' "Easy" brand promise.

To that end, conducted several intensive usability studies both before and during the redesign. Company employees sat in their customers' offices and watched them shop. They asked them to sort products into virtual product buckets. Based on their research, they established profiles of typical customers and discovered that more than 50% fell into one of two categories, Lisa Listmaker and Sammy Specific-customers who were in a hurry and knew exactly what they needed, said Colin Hynes, the company's director of usability. Staples also conducted subjective research, asking customers what they thought about its new tagline, branding and colors.

Today, that feedback is incorporated into a site that packs in plenty of options without overwhelming its audience. Looking to eliminate clutter, designers reduced the number of office supply categories to 17 from 24 and decreased the number of technology categories to 17 from 25. They also made "reordering" a priority, introducing an Easy Reorder feature that sits high on the page. The combination decreased the average time to locate products by nearly two seconds and increased the overall correct category choice by 14%, Hynes said.

"We considered our customers as our co-developers," Hynes said.

Hynes also said the company focused on the site as a sum of its parts. "We try to have everything hang together. It's remiss to say, `Let's make one area really, really great.' A page is not an island. A page is connected."

And in's case, connected in a way that helps customers navigate and shop in the quickest, easiest way possible.

Expert 2¢


Hoa Loranger: This site does a good job of organizing a large number of products into meaningful categories. … The search engine produces relevant results and supports people’s research behaviors by allowing them to sort, refine and compare items. Product descriptions are concise and emphasize features that people care about. Kate Everett-Thorp: Converting a deep product line to a one-click product seems to be a classic challenge overcome by Staples. One advantage to the home page navigation is to inform its diverse client base of their extensive product line. When you sell everything from labels to luggage, you need a simple way to bring the products to the users.

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