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OfficeMax, Staples top list of e-tail survey

The companies receive top billing in a Consumer Reports Online survey of e-tailers specializing in office supplies for small business owners.

    OfficeMax and Staples received top billing in a Consumer Reports Online survey of e-tailers specializing in office supplies for small business owners.

    The e-Ratings division of the Yonkers, N.Y.-based research firm praised both companies for their "large selections and helpful business services." That earned them better scores than competitors, including FedEx, the online division of United States Postal Service and Office Depot.

    Although researchers found convenient features on every site, they particularly liked the huge selection at OfficeMax, which features more than 30,000 items. They also liked the clear navigation and easy ordering process of Staples, which resulted in an overall "stress-free operation," according to Consumer Report's e-Ratings division.

    The other sites had niggling defects that slowed down the buying process for researchers, the report said.

    For example, researchers said they had a "tough time" setting up accounts on the FedEx site. After a harrowing session at the keyboard, they gave up and called FedEx's toll-free customer service center.

    The United States Postal Service site was easy to use to buy stamps and conduct other very quick purchases, but the privacy policy and shipping costs were unclear. In addition, researchers couldn't find a return policy for the USPS site.

    "The mailing sites were a bit harder to use," said Helen Popkin, Web associate editor of Consumer Reports Online. "All of these sites could improve their e-Ratings evaluations by improving their policies or usability or both."

    Consumer Reports Online picked the five sites based on their popularity in the office supply niche. In every case, researchers browsed for products, searched for specific items and placed an order. Sites were judged on the clarity and quality of design, content and policies, including security, privacy, shipping and handling, returns, and customer service.