A Head to Head Comparison

The two leading online office supplies purveyors, Office Depot and Staples, agreed to strut their stuff for iSource in a head-to-head comparison of their online stores. We approached the test as if we were a 200-person company that needed to strategically...


Users that query the site for order history are presented with an unexpected bonus: The files contain a complete listing of all orders whether they were called in, faxed in, or entered in the Web site. This data serves as the basis for our reports on the percentage of business done online versus through other modes, commented Bresolor. The site also providers users with good online training.


All in all, each site has excellent functionality. Office Depot and StaplesLink are recognized as some of the strongest B2B e-commerce sites in the world and it shows. Since StaplesLink does offer a greater number of interesting features, I have to give them a slight edge over Office Depot in this category. I am awarding StaplesLink 26 points and Office Depot 24.


Management Control Features (worth 20 points)


Once again, both solutions offer good, basic functionality, including multi-layer approvals. For example, an employee may need to pass all orders by their manager but must also submit orders for furniture to the facilities manager. Each system offers reporting capabilities, generating summaries by department, budget center, manager or category: The program administrator could use the system to determine which departments are ordering the most supplies or on what type of supplies the company is spending the most money, for instance. All the systems can limit orders for individuals based on dollar amounts. For example, the systems can be set to permit up to $100 per week in office supply expenditures for a particular person.


Office Depot and StaplesLink offer control as to where an order can be shipped. On the Staples site, users can only choose from the addresses provided in the pull-down menu populated by the administrator.


Beyond the basic control functionality, StaplesLink.com enables users to download reports into an Excel worksheet so they can play with the results. Another unique, useful feature is the ability for managers to modify an order before they approve it. So rather than reject an entire order of 10 items because one item was unacceptable, the manager can simply delete the unapproved item and then approve the rest. Since order size is a key driver of profitability in the office supplies industry, this feature helps Staples as well as the customer. Otherwise users might be tempted to submit a number of small requisitions instead of one large requisition to ensure that no orders are held back unnecessarily. Office Depot enhances customer control with several customizable fields for reporting, blanket orders with automatic shut-down when the dollars allocated are used up and a standard report on the percentage of contract items versus non-contract items ordered. Office Depot also allows customers to restrict orders for a particular user or group of users by category, such as furniture.


Both StaplesLink and Office Depot offer customers a report on the total dollars spent per part, which is, in my opinion, the most important report a customer needs. It was only with this calculation that I was able to determine that a full third of my office supply dollars were going for a particular type of toner cartridge when I was a purchasing manager. I'm a firm believer in the idea that aggregating volume at the part number level, identifying the items you spend the most on and negotiating the prices on those is the best way to drive down your direct costs.


I have seen other B2B e-commerce sites offer some control functionality that would have been nice at StaplesLink and Office Depot. For example, I've seen a feature where customers can set up a control to require order approval for any item that isn't on the laundry list. If every time a user tries to order unique items the request gets bounced back, users will be more inclined to work within the standard list of products. Another nice, common control feature is to require extra signatures, or issue a notification, if a particular individual or department is requesting purchases that exceed their budget. Also, other sites allow managers to customize how often they are notified of the need to approve a requisition, including every time an order is ready for review, once per day at most or never. Some managers prefer not to be pinged but instead check the system when they have a chance for orders to review.


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