Staples.com Launches Teacher Registry

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Close on the heels of a major Web site revamp designed to increase its focus on small businesses, office products supplier Staples.com yesterday unveiled an online teacher registry to tap the back-to-school supplies market this fall.


A concept borrowed from its Staples Inc. parent, the online teacher registry is located at www.staples.com/schoolzone. Teachers can register their class list of must-have school supplies for parents and students to buy online from home or computer terminals in more than 900 Staples stores.


"The back-to-school season is an outstanding sales generator and an opportunity for us to build relationships with new customers," said Kelly Mahoney, chief marketing officer at Staples.com, Framingham, MA.


The online teacher registry will also allow consumers to print supply lists off the site for shopping at Staples' bricks-and-mortar stores, part of a continuing collaboration between the online and offline arms.


A key ingredient in this measure's success is persuading teachers to post lists online. To this end, Staples.com is offering a series of incentives to lure educators to the site.


Teachers who register at Staples.com will get a basket of basic school supplies for their classroom. Participating teachers can also register in the Staples Teachers Sweepstakes for 100 prizes worth $35,000, including $500 checks, $500 gift certificates and $250 worth of essential supplies for school.


As another bonus, these registered teachers at the end of the back-to-school shopping season will get Staples Dollars credit of up to $50 for their classroom. Such efforts will be supported by direct mail to schools and teachers, details of which were not available at press time.


But it may not be as easy as it sounds. For one thing, the to-buy lists may not be elaborate enough to require postings on Staples.com or any Web site, said Jim Ayube, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group, Boston.


Also, "how traditionalist is the school's way of thinking?" he said. "Schools are reluctant to change, and when they do, they do it very slowly."


Regardless of the challenges for this extension, Staples.com is determined to continue its push to gain market share in the online office supplies market. Acquiring new customers and improving the Web site are the stated goals this year.


The company is projected to swallow losses of $150 million this year on targeted sales of $250 million. Sales in fiscal 1999 were up 458 percent to $94.3 million, from $16.9 million in the prior year. Net losses for the same 1999 period rose to $16.9 million, from $500,000 in the year before.


Earlier this month, the retailer added 10 new service partners to bolster small business offerings in areas like package tracking, money management, sales and marketing, legal and insurance, and technology and communications.


This addition was preceded by a May marketing campaign to steer small business traffic to Staples.com, engender customer loyalty and increase sales. The month-long effort included TV, online and print ads, direct mail and e-mail.


Staples.com recently redesigned its Web site to make it friendlier to users.


New features included a shopping cart that could be viewed at all times in the buying process, better navigation, enhanced product searching capability, and a shorter registration process.


Partly due to these changes, Staples.com moved up to the eighth most visited online retail site in the U. S. in April from No. 38, according to PC Data Online figures cited by the company.


"I think what's exciting to us is that we have enough time-saving features, which is the basis of our thinking that Staples.com will save customers time and money by providing a full-service destination that's got something in there for everyone," Mahoney said.
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