Office Supply Options: Choose With Care

Not so long ago, the average office needed a large quantity of file folders, paper clips, envelopes, printer paper and post-it notes. These traditional supplies play a smaller role in today’s digital world, but every office still needs them – along with restroom and break room supplies, printer and toner cartridges, hard drives and cleaning supplies.

Finding supplies is a simple matter. Brick and mortar office supply stores abound in suburban shopping centers, 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 - as a starting point.
  • Do your research. Make a complete list of area vendors and online suppliers that sell the types of products you need. Check delivery options, shipping costs, return policies and price points on the items you’re likely to buy most often. Explore customer loyalty discounts and other price breaks and 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, 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 a considerable amount of money.

Brick 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, because it’s tempting to make impulse purchases of items that you don’t really need.

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. Often, you can order an item online and pick it up at the store on your way home – saving both time and delivery costs.

Online Suppliers

Virtual stores, including e-commerce sites operated by the major brick-and-mortar office supply retailers, 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 or free delivery
  • Online coupons, specials and discount codes
  • Bulk purchasing options
  • Easy price comparison
  • Customer reviews to help you compare and evaluate products.
  • Returns by mail or to a brick and mortar store, if one exists.
  • 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 are full-service retailers with robust customer support, while others simply sell products. Consider whether you need an online retailer that offers these services:

  • Full customer support, including round-the-clock service reps
  • Convenient delivery options, including same or next-day
  • Ability to deliver to multiple locations
  • Payment options, including credit cards and PayPal
  • Reasonable return and warranty policies

Remember - the ultimate goal is to save money 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.