Goes After the Big Three

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Gearing up to go head-to-head with the three major brick-and-mortar office supply providers and their Web entities, is testing a number of online and offline direct response offers and concentrating on customer service.

To get ready for a run at Office Depot, Staples and OfficeMax, the site has been testing call-to-action marketing offers since November. The tests will wrap up in the middle of February when it plans to roll out its full-scale campaign.

Going up against the competition is no easy task considering they have existing marketing programs in place and established brand names. For example, Staples, Framingham, MA, has been boosting its brand and promoting its site by running e-mail marketing, banner ads, print and television advertising since September.

With these obstacles well in mind, the site is working to carefully hone its marketing efforts, according to Mary Repke, president of, Wilmington, DE. "There's a tremendous need for a mix of offline and online marketing to really capture our target market and convert them to customers," she said.

Working with 24/7 Media Inc., New York, is experimenting with banners and e-mail to reach small- to mid-sized businesses. The banners and e-mail ads present a sweepstakes offering $5,000 in office supplies.

Twelve banner ads will make 15 million impressions across the Web. The offer will also be sent to 1 million e-mail addresses while also being embedded in targeted newsletters.

Offline direct marketing is also being tested. The site partnered with Naviant, Newtown Square, PA, to send a 200,000-piece postcard mailing to small- to mid-sized businesses at the end of November. Another 200,000-piece drop is scheduled for this week. The offer consists of a $5 gift pack of free Bic products for any customer that spends $25 on the site.

The site will allocate its marketing dollars depending on how well these different test campaigns pan out, said Repke. "The spending mix will vary unless something comes up as totally not working." offers 20,000 products online. However, OfficeMax, Office Depot and Staples have the same number or more. Staples expects to have as many as 90,000 products this year.

However, Repke's plan is to differentiate its site not by the number of products it offers, but by focusing on "extreme customer care." For example, the site offers free next day delivery without specifying a minimum order. Competitors have a $50 minimum. It has a live help desk and will be rolling out "about a half-dozen killer apps to enhance the shopping experience" next month, according to Repke.

Regardless of these efforts, new online competitors aren't likely to be able to provide customers with the service they need, said Lapierre. "Office supplies are a commodity product. It's difficult to put the distribution and buying power in place overnight," she said. "Plus consumers can return merchandise directly to our stores." is also slated to begin a branding campaign at the end of next month. The thrust of the effort will be a print campaign, however there were no specific details at press time.

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