Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Consumer Dilemma

by Karen McCullough

And now, for something completely different...

My shiny new printer.
My printer died a few days ago – without warning or notice. It printed a few pages with no issues, then the next time I sent something to it, I got a message about an internal error. I did the usual things – turned it on and off, several times, turned it off and held down the power button to reset it, double-checked all the cables, looked at the ink cartridges, searched for paper jams – all to no effect. As a last resort, I looked up the problem on Google.

I wasn’t alone having this problem with this particular printer. In fact, I had a lot of company if the number of threads and complaints on various forums was an indicator.  A few people suggested a trick that had worked for some and didn’t for others. I tried it. Count me among the unlucky. My printer sat there like the useless lump of plastic it basically is now. Several people for whom this trick hadn’t worked had contacted the manufacturer, only to be told that if the printer was out of warranty, the owner was out of luck. But they’d sell you a nice, shiny new one! At a discount!

That sent me on an online quest for a new printer. I started, as I usually do, at ConsumerReports.org, where I have a subscription. After choosing the options I needed, I narrowed down my choices. An interesting feature to the CR site is that they collect feedback from actual users of the products as well as reporting on their own testing. In the case of the two highest rated printers on their list, the consumer feedback was abysmal. They were also both from a company I’d sworn I’d never buy from again.

A few lines down I found a couple of printers that had decent CR ratings and also got pretty good feedback from users. For each printer I considered, I went to both Amazon.com and Staples.com to compare prices and user feedback on the same items. Using all of those I decided on the printer I wanted.

And now the dilemma. For the same printer, Amazon has it list $20 cheaper than Staples. Shipping is negligible because I have Amazon Prime and Staples Rewards. Also I’d recover some of the price difference at Staples in the form of Rewards dollars. But even so it would still be cheaper to buy it from Amazon. In the interest of honesty, I do buy a lot of things from Amazon, often things I find hard to get elsewhere. But I very much want Staples to survive. I want Amazon to have some competition in the office products sector. An Amazon that basically controls an entire retail niche is a dangerous beast.

So—do I pay more and support Staples – an enterprise of dubious long-term stability, or take the devil’s bargain from Amazon? What would you do?

No, I’m not going to tell you what choice I made.  It’s done and I now have the new printer. But I want to know what you would do, and why.

2 comments:

  1. I, too, shop Amazon for many items, but for something like a printer I'd probably go to a local dealer in case I have trouble with the item. I hate returning things through the mail. Good luck with your new printer.

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  2. I always go to a physical retailer for my office equipment and ask the clerk for a recommendation or at least a comparison between brands. They may not be able to recommend but they have experience of the products and can point out the differences. I worked in IT for years as a consultant and, as a company, we stayed well away of the biggest, best known brands.

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