Monday, September 19, 2005

One Company That "Gets" the Web -- And One That Doesn't

While doing some Web strategy consulting work recently for a large office products company, I evaluated several competitors' Web sites. One site -- -- stood out not only as the best in the industry, but as an example of creativity and utility uncommon in any industry. Another competitor -- MeadWestvaco -- unfortunately for them, served as a prime counter-example (or perhaps an example of how to do almost everything wrong). I have no association with either of these companies, and my comments are intended to be illustrative and constructively critical rather than disparaging.

Avery is a company that really "gets" the Web, and it shows throughout their site. It has all of the basics one would expect, such as full e-commerce capability and a newsletter aimed at their target market, office managers. A nice touch is that all past issues of the newsletter are kept online in a searchable archive. Even more impressive, back issues are searchable by section, topic or specific issue; and most are available in both HTML (better for online reading) and PDF (better for printing) format.

In the Photo ID section, the "Three Ways to Buy" feature simplifies this process (online, by phone, or using an online form to contact an Avery representative).

The “Ideas” section shows Avery products in use for specific business and home projects (e.g. “Give thoughtful client gifts”). Their “Advanced Search…Office Products” feature is very useful – it enables visitors to select exactly what areas of the site they want to search (site-wide, products, ideas or software).

Avery has a large selection of clever and creative “product demos” done in Flash – these show the features and advantages of each product. For example, here’s one for Printable Hanging File Tabs. This is very cool.

Possibly the coolest feature on the site, however, is rather than merely providing templates or downloadable software, they have a feature called “Avery Print." You simply select which Avery product you’d like to print – for example, 1/3-cut filing labels – click “Next,” personalize a design, enter your text for the labels, review your labels, then print them. Complete instructions and troubleshooting help are provided. You can even save projects on their site for later re-use or modification. This is way ahead of their competition.

On the other end of the spectrum is MeadWestvaco. I’ve never seen a large company Web site, and rarely even a small company Web site, this incredibly awful. They still use frames, for example, which are highly navigation- and search-engine-unfriendly.

The logo in the upper left corner of the site leads to a separate corporate site rather than to the MeadWestvaco home page, which would be standard navigation practice.

They offer free clipart -- but the selection is extremely limited. Their templates apparently don't support versions of Microsoft Word newer than Word 2000 (PC) or Word 98 (Mac). They also offer two free applications for download, called KwikFill and EzEnvelope -- but the site offers no explanation of what these applications do, how they work, or what they are compatible with, just a "download" button.

The copyright date on this page is 2000, and the company’s history abruptly ends in 2001.

Although the site lists products (catalog items) on pages like this one, it provides absolutely no information about how or where to purchase their products. Maybe you should click that shopping basket graphic on the left? (Whoops, sorry, forgot about the frames; from that last link, you'll have to go back to the home page to see the shopping cart.) Nope, that tells you that your cart is empty and sends you back to the catalog!

MeadWestvaco’s sister sites are a bit better, but not much. offers e-commerce functionality, but when I clicked on the first product in the “Expanding Files” product line, the site gave me this message: “OUT OF STOCK We're sorry, this product is currently out of stock and there are no substitutes available at this time. Note: Color is determined at time of shipment. We cannot accept requests for specific colors.” The product comes in different colors, but I can’t tell them which color I want??!! In fact, when I first visited this site, three of the four products listed in this category were out of stock. Hmmm…try a different category? How about Folders / Portfolios? Two of the first three products in that category were also listed as out of stock.

In the “Where to Find Our Products” section on the At-A-Glance site, they list retail stores that carry their products – but they don’t link to any of their sites online, so you can’t immediately check the retailers’ Web sites for availability of any of the products listed as out of stock on the At-A-Glance site. Are you a business purchaser looking for a dealer? The site doesn’t list dealers on their site, but gives you a link to “email us” for dealer information – unfortunately, this is a dead link.

What would you expect to find in the “What’s New” section of the site – the latest company news perhaps? Nope, it just shows a photo and description of a new product – but no way to order the product from this page!

In the FAQ section on the At-A-Glance site, under “Why isn’t the Mead product I’m looking for on your Web site?”, one answer is that some products can be found on However, when you visit the Mead site, and click on “Shop,” the link takes you…back to the At-A-Glance site. Ouch.

Some companies get this stuff, and some don't; in short order, the latter are likely to have their lunch eaten by the former.


Terms: web site design, web strategy, e-commerce best practices

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