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Has Staples finally solved its coupon caper?

The company adopts a new Web coupon system that it hopes will patch the holes that have allowed some bargain hunters to haul away free goods in recent months.

Staples has adopted a new Web coupon system that it hopes will patch the holes that have allowed some bargain hunters to haul away free goods in recent months, a company spokeswoman said.

This week, the big office-supply chain switched to a "serialization coding system," which sends customers an individual code number that prevents a coupon from being used more than once and helps ensure that the coupon is used by the customer Staples intended it for, spokeswoman Debby Hohler said.

"We want to provide the best value and convenience to our best customers," she said.

Earlier this month, a system glitch enabled Web bargain hunters to circulate coupon codes over several Internet message boards, which were used by people to walk away with free or nearly free products.

The coupon problem dates back to last October, when a $20 discount coupon intended for a select group of Staples shoppers was published on a message board, allowing dozens of people to go on spending sprees. The code, which was 10 digits, was able to be used multiple times.

Staples has maintained that the amount of merchandise lost from these gaffes was minuscule.

Separately, the company said it has installed Internet kiosks in 20 of its brick-and-mortar stores as part of a pilot program.

These moves send a message that Staples intends to forge ahead with its e-commerce strategy at a time when other large retailers are curtailing their Web plans.

"We are transforming our business by bringing the online world to our (offline) store shoppers," Staples chief executive Thomas Stemberg said in a statement.

E-commerce bottomed out this spring as e-tail stocks plummeted and many companies closed their doors after running out of funding. The downturn has seemingly turned some big retail chains off to selling online. Toys "R" Us appeared to walk away from e-commerce when it struck an alliance with Amazon.com two weeks ago to create a joint Web site, analysts say.

Toys "R" Us turned over most of the new site's Web operations to Amazon while agreeing to handle the conventional toy-buying duties such as merchandising and inventory control.

Staples, however, has embraced e-commerce like few other old-line retailers and has worked to meld its online and offline operations, even as its Internet unit, Staples.com, continues to rack up losses.

The kiosks, which customers can use to log on to Staples.com, will be located in five states, including California, Michigan and Massachusetts. The kiosks are designed to help customers locate the more than 100,000 products featured on Staples.com that may be missing from the shelves at its brick-and-mortar locations. They also contain information about Staples business services.