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An open letter to Staples….

Staples has long been one of my favorite stores. Fortunately, the closest store is merely a few hundreds yards from my home here in Shrewsbury, so for over a decade it has been a home away from home. Whether that be for August school supplies, or more commonly the run at 8:30 at night for poster board when I find out we have a school project due. Most of the time, however, it’s for the purchase of supplies for my home office. As many people have taken to working out of their homes, and have limited storage, we tend to run pretty lean. We don’t order cases of copy paper at a time, we just run over to Staples and grab what we need.

Over the past two years, however, the normally amazing selection of items at my Staples has been dwindling and dwindling, and instead it seems as though everything is geared towards getting the consumer who has already walked into the store to leave, and “shop at Staples Online.” I shop online all the time, but yet I still value the brick and mortar store. That said, I’m not quite sure of the point of operating a brick and mortar store if you are just going to tell people that they should go to your website and buy it online.

I’ve had this conversation with many people at Staples over the years, and most of them agree with the general assumption, but tonights adventure really illustrated beautifully just how this practice is costing the company millions in revenue. Last year, I purchased at my local Staples, a high end Cannon Photo Printer. This printer takes 8 cartridges of colored ink, which used to be able to purchased at my local Staples. That’s really important, because when you’re doing a run of photos and run out of ink, you’re essentially paralyzed. To make things easier for the consumer, and because different colors of ink are used at different rates based on the photos being printed, Cannon offers individual ink cartridges for retail sale, in each of the 8 colors, in addition to the 8-pack with all colors, and a 4-pack with an assortment of colors.

In the middle of a print run today, I ran low on “photo-magenta” and ran right over to Staples like the loyal customer that I am. After grabbing some of the other things I needed, paper, highlighters, supplies, an external hard drive, I went over to grab my printer ink only to find that there was none. Now, of course, all stores run out of goods from time to time, but that wasn’t the case here. No in this case, the company has, according to the tech desk there, chosen to carry in their stores only 4 of the 8 colors that are required to make the printer function. They have those 4 colors individually, they have them in a pack of 4, they have them in a pack of 3 with a combo pack of paper, and even stock them in the Staples generic brand that is compatible, again only in 4 of the colors which are necessary. To say that I’m perplexed would be an understatement. If you are not going to carry printer ink, then don’t carry it. If you’re going to carry printer ink for the printer which you sell, then carry all 8 colors. It is completely illogical to randomly have red, blue, yellow and black in the store, but not have green, magenta etc. You cannot use the printer without all 8 cartridges filled, regardless of what you’re printing so this is not an option.

Are the people at the store helpful and friendly? Absolutely…but they are under a set of draconian instructions to tell each and every consumer that they can just order the other colors at Staples Online. What are the repercussions of this? Well, if you think that it’s generating more online business for Staples, you would be very mistaken. In my entire life, I’ve never ordered anything from Staples online, because honestly, if I’m going to buy things online, I can get them far, far cheaper than at Staples. No, I go to the store, because I need it now…and can’t wait.

When you don’t have what I need, the item I specifically went to pick up, you’re losing out on far more than an ink sale. Not finding the ink I desperately need, I have to run to Walmart or some other store to try and find it immediately so I quickly put back on the shelves at Staples all the other things I was shopping for, and dash out on my quest for ink. Having run out of time, and out of options, I finally head home to just order online…but certainly not through Staples.

A quick Google search for my CLI8 8-pack pulls it up at Staples for $109.00 plus shipping. ( http://www.staples.com/Canon-CLI-8-Black-and-Color-Ink-Cartridges-0620B015-8-Pack/product_666759 )

The same product however is available from countless places for as low as $79.90, from anyone from Amazon to B&H photo, most with Free Shipping ( http://www.amazon.com/Canon-CLI-8-8-Color-Multipack-Tanks/dp/B000IBPD0S ).

I was more than willing to pay the $109.00 at my brick and mortar store (plus tax) because I really, really needed it now, but I’m certainly not going to pay $30 more at your online store and then wait for it.

In the end, over a somewhat arbitrary decision to not stock 4 of the 8 colors, what would have been a sale to me of $218.00 (I was going to buy two sets) plus all of the other items I had in my cart at the time (about another $200) became a sale of zero dollars, and a vociferously loyal Staples customer being driven to your competitors at the suggestion of the Staples employees who said I could “just go home and order it online).

Again, make no mistake. You may make the perfectly acceptable business decision to not carry any printer ink at all. You could say that it takes up too much space for what it’s worth. I wouldn’t agree with it, but I’d respect that at least somewhere it was a business decision. Rather it’s the carrying of only half of the colors that I find bizarre….as odd as it would be to carry only blue highlighters not yellow, or only letter-size paper and not legal, or only black pens, and not blue.

Hopefully, someone will reevaluate the decision not only in the case of ink, but rather the entire notion of driving Staples customers to go on the internet to order what they need…because they are simply NOT all buying them from you once they get there.

Many thanks to you all….and Ron, if you’re reading this….hope you and the family are doing well. Been a long time since we’ve seen each other, but I was always a fan. I can still remember what you said about the guys at business school and the 40 year old cutoff, and was thrilled that you made it!

All the best.


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