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...


Here's one area where the two companies couldn't be more different. Office Depot does a thorough job of protecting customer's information; the company keeps credit card data on its site encrypted so even internal employees can't see the actual numbers. In addition, Office Depot offers a feature to its customers to establish a particular credit card number for users at the time of set-up, so not even the user knows the number. This feature is especially useful for companies that don't want to give temporary employees a company credit card but do want them to be able to order their own supplies.


The StaplesLink approach is poles apart. Due to customer request, the site does not store credit card data, so it is not vulnerable to theft. While this does make it inconvenient for users that buy with credit cards because they have to re-enter the number each time they order, most of our customers prefer to order on account anyway, explains Keene.


I hate to cop out, but I'm not comfortable at this point saying that either the Staples approach or the Office Depot approach is better, so I am awarding them both a 4, since it is apparent that security is a top priority.


Usability (20 Points)


All right already no product comparison would be complete without a real test drive. In order to accomplish this, I drew up a list of four relatively common products and timed how long it took me to find and order these items on each Web site.* The list contained about as much information as I would typically give my administrator when I needed something. It included 100 Pilot extra-fine, felt-tip, Precise pens; 10 1-1/2 binders with a pocket on the spine for a label; a box of 100 assorted 1/3 cut file folders (preferably Globe-Weiss) and four black ink cartridges for my printer. I did the two tests a week apart and made sure not to learn any tricks between sessions.


StaplesLink


First, I tried the StaplesLink site. It didn't take long for me to remember why trying to order from this site without a favorites or laundry list almost brings me to tears (disclosure:  I use Staples.com to order supplies for my small business). It took me 17 minutes to find the right pen. Part of the problem was the general slowness of the site and that I was confronted with terms that I didn't know to narrow my search. Far more troublesome, anytime I made an error and hit back, the site took me all the way back to the home page and I had to drill back down to where I left off again. Eventually I figured out that I could click on a different icon that took me up a category, but even then I was frustrated because I found I could only order singly packaged pens, despite the fact that I needed 100.


Finding binders wasn't as bad, now that I had trained myself not to hit the back button, but I still had trouble. Once again, the sub-categories were Greek to me, including terms like elliptical ring and piano hinge binders. It wasn't until I drilled all the way down to the pictures that I could determine whether an option was what I wanted. At last I located a binder that looked right, but then found that it only came in whole inch sizes (1, 2 and 3). I had already spent almost nine minutes on this item, so I gave up.


Unfortunately, finding file folders wasn't much easier. This time, Globe-Weiss worked as a keyword, but it wasn't clear from the descriptions whether anything on the list of the 25 search results was the one I wanted. I drilled down on each item before I concluded that none were what I wanted, then tried a keyword search on the Globe-Weiss part number, also to no avail. Finally I gave up and searched on description, choosing an Ampad substitute.


I tried the keyword search for the printer cartridge but the system didn't recognize my number. I tried the product match-maker function and it worked. Checkout was relatively easy, and the site offered me the ability to save the order as a laundry list template for later on (and now I understand why!). The total elapsed time for the order 43-1/2 minutes.


Office Depot


Frankly, after my experience with StaplesLink, I wasn't looking forward to this test. And when it came to ordering the pens I had similar difficulties, again being presented with terms I was unfamiliar with. This site did have some really nice features, however. It listed the amount of inventory on hand for each item right along with the summarized description. While this was helpful, it did cause some other difficulties the site had to list the same product in different  package sizes separately in order to detail correct inventory numbers. I got a little confused with this feature at first because Office Depot only had a few boxes of 12 pens in stock but a ton of individual pens. It took me a little while to figure out how to get 100 on order.

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