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BIG BOXES ENGAGING IN ONLINE BATTLE FOR BACK-TO-SCHOOL BUCKS.

HIGH POINT, N.C.-Mass merchants and office superstores are taking their back-to-school act on the Internet road, trying to beat each other to the student punch on furniture for fall.

Wal-Mart's online focus is on high-schoolers and college students -- back-to-school consumer groups with their own disposable dollars. Wal-Mart's home page sports a "Student Central" section featuring furniture at the top of the list: a hip denim and metal-framed imported futon for $79.88, and student desks starting at $19.94 for Sauder's oak finish model. Gusdorf and Dorel ready-to-assemble desks are also listed as top sellers, along with several pieces of Sauder's Pacifica computer and storage collection available from Wal-Mart exclusively online.

Target's back-to-school online push features furniture front and center with a huge banner ad for 10 percent off on kids' furniture across the top of the home page. Sauder's Sand Castle bedroom and storage collection is reduced through Aug. 4, and Target competes directly with Wal-Mart by offering Sauder's Pacifica RTA bedroom pieces at 10 percent or more below Wal-Mart's "everyday low prices."

By contrast, Kmart's online "School's In" promotion places furniture way down the list, featuring Elite's futon-like E Frame Combo for $99.99, O'Sullivan's mobile computer cart for $129.99 and a five-tiered shelving unit from Studio RTA, on sale for $199.99.

The link to Office Depot's charitable "5% Back To Schools" program is buried at the bottom of its Internet site's home page and refers consumers to its brick-and-mortar retail stores for a list of qualifying products. In-store back-to-school furniture special buys, like the Elite student-desk-and-chair combo for $29.95, and Office Star's task chair with special-order animal-print fabrics, aren't mentioned or available online. Office Depot's "Dorm Room Essentials" page pictures a remote-control standing fan and a dorm-sized refrigerator, but no furniture. Everyday RTA computer desk offerings include Bestar, Bush, Concepts In Wood, O'Sullivan and Sauder products.

Back-to-school furniture specials are a button-click away from OfficeMax's home page, but none of the items, from task chairs to desks to RTA storage units, carries a manufacturer's brand name online. After a $20 instant rebate and a $30 mail-in rebate, OfficeMax's self-branded Micro Mobile Computer Cart is a competitive $29.98.

Staples also has placed a link button for the back-to-school page at the top of its site, proclaiming "All Your Back-to-School Needs. All in One Place." The student-supplies page offers links to special shopping for grades K-8, the back-to-high-school/college crowds and teachers. Clicking on the high school/college button pulls up a Sauder Cottage computer desk and hutch for $99.99, and a pop-up window suggesting a larger O'Sullivan computer desk for $149.98.
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Comment:BIG BOXES ENGAGING IN ONLINE BATTLE FOR BACK-TO-SCHOOL BUCKS.
Author:Bishop, Susan
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 4, 2003
Words:441
Previous Article:BUSINESS CASUAL; THE SUMMER PREMARKETS SAW SUPPLIERS GO ALL OUT WITH PRODUCT INTRODUCTIONS.
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