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Office Depot broadens Net business

The giant office supplier announces an alliance with Web start-up ELetter to offer mailing services for small- and medium-sized businesses via the Web.

Office Depot announced that it will provide a mailing service for small- and medium-sized businesses via its Web site.

The service, provided in conjunction with Web start-up ELetter, allows small-business managers to mass mail information to their customers by simply uploading a document and a list of addresses. ELetter has been providing the service through its site since launching in May.

The move comes as Office Depot looks to expand its Web site beyond selling office supplies and furniture. The company has set up an online office solutions area, where small-business managers can set up teleconferences and get information on how to start, plan, and finance a business. Users can also download standardized forms, worksheets, and policy statements.

The service should appeal to small businesses that don't have the resources to do mailings by themselves, according to Zona Research analyst Jack Staff. But those small businesses are often hard to target, he said, and may have trouble compiling the lists necessary to take advantage of the service.

Office Depot vice president Keith Butler said the company plans to develop more partnerships with companies such as ELetter to expand its small-business offerings. The company is looking into providing Web hosting and Internet domain registration, among other services, he said.

"When we look at partnerships like ELetter, [we consider if] they fill a compelling need," Butler said, adding that the company is considering a variety of possible partners.

ELetter spokesman Joseph Loll said the companies signed a two-year agreement to provide a cobranded site. Office Depot will receive a commission on each order ELetter receives from an Office Depot customer.

"[Office Depot] targets the small- to medium-sized business that fits well in line with our customer base," Loll said. "It's a great opportunity for ELetter to take advantage of the high amount of traffic Office Depot site generates."

ELetter accepts lists in many different formats. The service charges for both printing and postage, but provides a discount on both to customers. The service prints and mails letters, postcards, and booklets, charging anywhere from 14 cents to produce one gray postcard to more than $6 for each 8-page booklet.