Each contestant offers good purchase control, but lacked several interesting ones I've observed in my work. Both Office Depot and StaplesLink offer good although somewhat different controls; so I'm awarding them both a 14. As a user, if I used blanket orders, I'd probably favor Office Depot; but I would prefer Staples in order to gain the partial approval capability.
Business Model (worth 15 points)
A major shortcoming of both the Staples and Office Depot business models is that users have a wonderful, responsive system that offers reporting and control ... for a portion of their maintenance, repair and operating spend. The solutions cannot, as currently defined and deployed, be scaled to cover other expenditures (items that aren't ordered from a catalog, in particular) leaving businesses to either settle for automating a portion of their purchases or use a different system for other commodities. For example, a company could use both the Staples and Gateway Web sites for ordering MRO, but the control systems will not be integrated and the customer will have to marry data by hand to produce all-inclusive reports. The office supply companies could attempt to extend their franchises to cover all the indirect materials and services a company needs, but this is a hard sell when most businesses already have strong loyalties and long-term relationships with their suppliers in other segments.
Pure dot-coms, including online marketplaces, are encroaching on the larger brick and mortars such as our contenders, touting their lack of massive warehouses and delivery fleets, flexibility, and technology prowess as superior to the entrenched distributors. But, in defense of Office Depot and Staples, both have physical assets that greatly enhance their ability to service their customers. Each has their own fleet of delivery vans, which makes desktop delivery instead of dock delivery possible for customers who want it. And both offer users the option to shop in their retail stores while paying the lower of contract or retail price for the items purchased there. Most dot-coms offer neither of these things.
One compromise of late is what solutions provider Ariba calls punch-out technology a system where users creating requisitions in an automated e-commerce system can directly visit a supplier's site to find and select products. An alternative compromise is to have a custom catalog from your supplier integrated into your internal system for a private marketplace of sorts. These custom catalogs generally contain only your contract items at your contract price and can be maintained by you, your supplier or a third party.
The benefit to both of these options is the ability to use the features and functionality of multiple catalogs and/or sites, while keeping the control function at the top level over all purchasing activity.
My conclusion in the matter is that the jury is still out as to which business model will be more successful, at least in terms of small business needs. It may well turn out that more than models will garner significant support. In the meantime, I will give both Office Depot and StaplesLink a score of 10 out of 15, because using their sites does directly create stand-alone systems. My prediction is that a year from now both will have evolved in some way to address this issue more effectively.
Quality Control (worth 10 points)
I found some impressive programs and policies behind the Web sites of these contenders. StaplesLink.com measures its perfect order rate and uses the resulting data to drive continuous improvement. For Staples, a perfect order means that the correct items were shipped and all paperwork was accurate. Office Depot has stringent internal quality measures such as comparing the weight an order should be to the actual shipping weight. Any order that doesn't match up is usually packed wrong, so Office Depot pulls it back to correct it. I am really impressed with both suppliers in this category and so am awarding both a perfect 10 for their initiatives.