One of the many "customer loyalty programs" that I am unfortunately subscribed to, is the "Staples Rewards Program". All the Office Stores have them, and they want you to use your "rewards card" every time you shop.
What does this do for you? Well unless you buy a LOT of paper and toner, or use their printing services, chances are, it does nothing.
From their website, we get the rules of this complicated game:
10% back in Staples Rewards on all ink & toner purchases
10% back in Staples Rewards on all case & ream paper purchases
10% back in Staples Rewards on all Copy & Print purchases
Earn an unlimited 10% back on qualifying purchases when you earn at least $10 in Rewards within a calendar quarter.
Staples Rewards are issued monthly when the value of the Reward is at least $10. Monthly balances of less than $10 will roll over each month until the minimum is met for that calendar quarter. If the $10 minimum for the quarter has not been met, the balance will expire at the end of the quarter.
Redeem your Rewards any way you'd like - online at staples.com, over the phone at 1-800-333-3330 or in any Staples® store by the expiration date.
Recycle any ink or toner cartridge, up to 10 per calendar month, and get $2 back in Staples Rewards per cartridge. Ink Recycling Rewards are issued Monthly, separately from your other benefits.Staples Rewards Premier
Get automatically upgraded to Premier status when you spend $1,000 or more on anything in a calendar year. Excludes taxes, delivery charges, coupons and gift cards.
Right off the bat, you notice that your rewards don't apply toward purchases of anything else other than toner, paper and printing. So why bother with the "rewards card" if you are not making purchases of these items?
So, if I buy a $100 ink cartridge in one month, I will get a coupon for $10 off my next purchase! Such a deal, right?
One problem, though, is that the cartridge for my printer is $79. And I usually use maybe one a year. So in order to get this $10 off, either I have to buy the "high capacity" cartridge for $149 or a "two cartridge pack" for $261.
In other words, the $10 off deal ends up being an incentive to over-consume. And yes, it probably "makes sense" to buy the larger deal and get the vaunted $10 back, and end up with a spare cartridge kicking around my office for a year or so. But in terms of a real deal, it comes to far less than 10% off, unless I buy a boatload of cartridges.
It also illustrates that if I was to buy the $261 cartridge, it would make sense to buy a box of copy paper to bring the purchase to just over $300 (before tax) in order to get $30 back, instead of $20.
And of course, this is a great kickback scheme if you are charged with buying cartridges and paper for your law firm or business. They hand you the company credit card and you go down and buy the stuff - making sure that the "rewards card" number is put on your personal card, not the company's.
So at the end of the month, you get a $10 coupon in the mail. Problem is, what to spend it on? You are already stealing all the office supplies you want from work, right? And that is why, near the checkout, they put a stack of non-office-supply things and also have "gifts" around Christmas time. These are the booty piles for the secretaries and office managers cashing in on their company's rewards bonuses.
It is like airline miles all over again.
My laserjet printer will need a new cartridge soon, and of course, the color printer needs new cartridges (again). Should I buy the double-package of high capacity cartridges and some inkjet cartridges and a box of copy paper to make a $300 or $400 sale and get a coupon for $40 back?
Maybe. Or maybe I should just shop online for the same cartridges at a lower cost?
The $149 high-capacity cartridge is available online for as little as $68 (3rd party) or is available from Amazon.com for $115.99, including free shipping (a savings of $30 before applying the $10 Staples rewards, a savings of about $20 after Staples rewards). Throw in the convenience of shopping online, not spending $5 in gas to drive to the store and a half-hour to an hour saved in my life, and well, shopping online beats Staples Rewards, doesn't it?
The Inkjet Cartridges (HP 56/57) are $57.99 from Staples, but are $49.55 on Amazon, again with free shipping. Again, a 3rd party refill is even cheaper. Here, the savings are not as great, perhaps $8. If you bought two sets of cartridges, you'd pay about $120 at Staples, or about $110 with the rewards kick-back. Amazon is still cheaper at about $100.
And let's not talk about State Sales Tax, right? So the Amazon deal (and Amazon is hardly the cheapest of Internet Retailers, just one of the easiest to deal with) ends up saving on the order of $30 or more. Plus, I don't have to dick around with a "rewards card" and coupons that distract me from the value of the underlying transaction.
I don't have to drive into town and dick around at the store either.
I could probably save even more by shopping around online more aggressively. But right off the bat, 10 minutes of "work" (far less time than it would take to drive to the store) saves $30 in costs. Well worth the effort. And the nice thing is, printer cartridges give you ample warning when they are going to go dry, so you can order these and wait several days for shipping, without any hassle.
Would I buy cartridges from Staples again? Probably not, after doing this analysis. And besides, with the Death of Paper, I just don't print many things anymore. Most documents I store online as PDF files and view using my dual screens.
So printer cartridges are, for me, a once-a-year-if-that kind of deal. Certainly not worth screwing around with rewards cards for.
Again, the basic transaction is often the best bargain.