Office Supply Options: Choose Vendors with Care¹

Office Supply Options: Choose Vendors with Care

Office supplies represent the nuts and bolts of business operations. And while separate items may not cost much, keeping your office fully stocked can eat up a sizable slice of the budget.

Finding supplies is a simple matter. Bricks and mortar stores dealing in this brand of inventory are available in shopping malls and on street corners, and the number of online vendors has soared in the past few years. Both channels have advantages and disadvantages, so consider some important factors before you pull out your credit card.

Before You Shop

The fastest way to waste money is to hit the keyboard - or local office supply store - without a plan. To make the most of your office supply dollar, observe these guidelines:

  • Budget. If you don't have a line item for office supplies, add one. Experts suggest reviewing receipts for a prescribed period - six months, for instance - to use as a starting point.
  • Do your research. Make a complete list of area vendors and online suppliers that sell products within your price range. Check delivery options, shipping costs, return policies and price points. Merchants who offer customer loyalty discounts and other price breaks will help you to narrow your picks to two or three vendors.
  • Take inventory. Check the supply closet and shopping receipts for products you purchase most frequently. Ask staff members which items consistently run low. Once you have the information, decide which of these would make logical bulk orders. Keep in mind that reusable stock, such as paper clips, file folders and binders are not the best candidates for high-quantity purchases. On the other hand, paper, envelopes, restroom products and break-room supplies, such as coffee and napkins, are.
  • Investigate off-brand options. Some vendors offer house brands or generic products, especially for items such as paper, folders, cleaning products - even ink cartridges. Once you choose your vendors, give these a try. Provided the quality matches their name-brand equivalents, you can save considerable money.

Bricks and Mortar Office Supply Outlets

Online shopping is quick, easy and typically budget friendly. But given the stepped-up competition from e-commerce sites, brick-and-mortar stores are doing what they can to sweeten the deal. And the fact remains that some business owners like to see, touch and smell what they're planning to buy.

Even so, exercise caution when browsing retail aisles. Warehouse stores such as Sam's Club and Costco offer great deals on high ticket items such as computers and printers. On the other hand, regularly stocked products like paper, folders, pens and ink cartridges don't represent that much in the way of savings,and the selection is limited. If you pay attention to the unit cost, you may find it less expensive to buy 12 separate reams of paper elsewhere than to purchase a case at the warehouse.

Stores specializing in office supplies such as Office Depot, Staples and Office Max offer the widest selection and prices are good. Brick-and-mortar fans also like having a real person available to handle questions and concerns.  Virtually all the big-name outlets also have an online presence, so non-stocked or out-of-stock items are easy to get, requiring only a day or two for delivery.

For fast - though sporadic - deals, try a couple nontraditional choices. Dollar stores stock discontinued name brands in paper, pens and other office supplies at a tremendous savings. Stay away from off-brands, though, because their quality is usually inferior.

Discount operations like Wal-Mart and Target, and even drugstores such as Rite Aid Pharmacy now carry office supplies. While prices aren't always the lowest, they do offer special promotions from time to time, with hefty discounts.

Online Suppliers

Shopping online has become so pervasive that all major office supply retailers also operate e-commerce sites, in addition to those that work exclusively online. In fact, some vendors offer Internet browsing options at stations or kiosks located within their brick-and-mortar stores.

Virtual stores do not allow customers to physically handle the product, but other benefits are undeniable. These include:

  • Convenience
  • Vast product selection
  • Easy restocking of routinely purchased goods
  • Fast, low-cost and often free delivery
  • Online coupons, specials and discount codes
  • Availability of bulk purchases
  • Easy price comparison
  • Returns by mail or to a bricks-and-mortar store, when applicable

Online shopping also provides direct access to your purchase history, including item quantity, price and order total. Having this information at your fingertips makes it easy to reorder, track spending trends or revise your supply budget.

As convenient as this may be, though, not all online office suppliers are created equal. Some fail in services consumers have every right to expect. Before you take the online option for business purchases, make sure vendors offer:

  • Full customer support, including round-the-clock service reps
  • Convenient delivery options, including next-day
  • Ability to deliver to multiple locations, when applicable
  • Diverse billing terms, including online PayPal or credit card payment
  • Reasonable return and warranty policies

Remember - the ultimate goal is to look for overall savings while purchasing high quality products, whether you prefer to shop online or in brick-and-mortar stores. You may find that the best strategy is to do a little of both.