Staples Contract Division has launched a new version of its B2B Web site, StaplesLink.com, which in the space of a few years has become the processing point for some 70 percent of Staples Contract Division orders. The most significant difference in this incarnation of the site is that it has migrated to a new platform based on WebSphere.
The shift was made in anticipation of future growth. “Over the last three years, our revenues have hit double-digit growth, and we’ve added 10,000 new customers,” said Lisa Hamblet, Staples Contract Division’s vice president of B2B e-commerce. “More than 95 percent of those customers are placing their orders electronically,” she told CRM Buyer Magazine. “We knew we needed to be proactive about the scalability issue.”
The move to WebSphere was not the only change made, though. “We enhanced the navigational flow and made a significant enhancements to our order-management processes,” Hamblet said.
Now users are able to see order status for all requests placed — even if they are not purchased through StaplesLink. Previously, this visibility was limited to online orders; customers who placed orders via fax or phone had to track down their order status in other ways.
New search filters are another addition. Now users can search for vendors using such criteria as whether a business is minority-owned or environmentally friendly, for example. Finally, the online return process has been improved. Users are able to return items — no matter how they were purchased — via StaplesLink.
20,000 and Growing
Currently, some 20,000 organizations use StaplesLink, the company said, and growth is expected to continue.
It is not surprising that StaplesLink has experienced the success that it has, according to Aberdeen Group vice president and research director Kent Allen, who cites StaplesLink as one of the leading sites in collaborative commerce. “They are successful because they concentrate first on making the buying experience easy and seamless for their customers,” he told CRM Buyer.
Staples has developed a reputation for working hard with customers to trim the fat from transactions, thus driving excess costs out of its procurement operations. “The growing number of customers using StaplesLink speaks to how this B2B procurement solution is enabling customers to efficiently drive out those costs,” Allen noted.
E-Procurement Takes Off
The success of StaplesLink.com is indicative of a larger trend: a growing acceptance by corporations that a rigorously applied e-procurement strategy can deliver significant supply-chain efficiencies and cost reductions.
Strategic online procurement traditionally has been a hit-or-miss affair for many companies. On average, enterprises have applied organized sourcing principles to less than half of their overall spending, according to an Aberdeen Group report. This finding is somewhat surprising, given that e-procurement and e-sourcing technologies tend to faithfully deliver a rapid return on investment.
However, statistics — not to mention success stories such as StaplesLink.com — suggest this is starting to change. Forrester Research recently reported that online procurement was slowly gaining traction in the B2B community, citing new data from a survey of 294 supply-management executives. The average firm purchased 10.5 percent of its indirect materials on the Net in Q4 — an increase of 1.5 percent over Q3 2002, according to the survey. At the same time, online purchases of direct materials jumped to 9.4 percent — an increase of 2.9 percent.
“Demand supply collaboration has become a key area of concentration for a lot of companies,” AMR Research senior analyst Pierre Mitchell told CRM Buyer. Sharing point-of-sale information, as well as sales forecasts and demand information, gives suppliers an early heads-up — and that is driving the latest wave of e-procurement adoption, he said.