In the decade since online retailing burst onto the scene, the role it plays within retailer strategies continues to evolve. At first seen as a necessary supplement to retailers' traditional strategies, online stores now play a first-tier role within retailers' overall channel portfoliosand their importance continues to grow. Behind this steady progress is a long trail of challenges that have been overcome, as retailers have gained more experience and commerce technology has become more mature and standardized.

Some of the biggest improvements in online commerce practices have been in the area of multi-channel integration, creative merchandising, product search and the overall streamlining of the user experience. With the kinks that plagued the early days of Web commerce largely worked out, online retailing has clearly reached a new level of sophistication, manifested by the growing share of revenue retailers have gleaned from their online sales.

But online retail is a perpetual work in progress, with the boundaries of the online purchasing experience continually being pushed by the retailers that have done much to shape it to date. Staples, whose aggressive development of its Web channels has placed it among the top two eRetailer sites, is one such retailer. The growing volume of business generated by its two sites— (targeted to small businesses and home offices) and (targeted to larger businesses)—has been a major factor in the company's overall top-line growth. Both channels figure prominently in the company's long-term growth strategy.

To achieve the high rate of growth it envisions in the small business/home office segment, Staples realized it needed to realign the technology that powered to make it better able to support the company's business strategies and meet the growing competitive demands of the market. Perhaps the most basic requirement was the ability of the infrastructure to handle volume surges with no loss of performance or reliability, which customers have come to expect.

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