Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Office Depot - My least favorite destination...

As a computer resource specialist, I work hard to try to get the most for my school. This is not for me, or for my teachers, this is about what is best for my students. I look for bargains, use coupons and keep my ears open for deals. I also save a lot of ink cartridges. A whole lot. I refuse to give them up for nothing. I mean, from I understand, people/companies refill them and then resell them. Someone is making a profit on this deal.

So, in June I heard that Office Depot was giving a $3 off coupon for each ink cartridge turned in, that can then be combined for total of $75 off any single purchase in a day. I thought this is too good to be true. But it was true!

I gathered up my 250+ cartridges (I am still not sure how many I turned in, I just kept pulling them out of a big box) and dropped them off 25 at a time collecting coupons the whole way. It only took me about two weeks to turn them all in.

I wasn't sure at first what all I wanted to get for the school, so I started spending them slowly thinking that after school started up I would have a better idea of what to purchase. I did know that we needed mouse pads. I bought all the cheap red ones in all three stores located within a 7 mile radius of my house (@$4 a pop). Then I bought all the, blue, gray and green mouse pads in all three stores (@$5+ a pop). I cleared out three stores of all the cheapest mouse pads they had to sell. By the way, they don't restock very quickly. It took almost a month before I saw any of these mouse pads in any store near me. Total mouse pads purchased- 60. It was important for my school to get these because kids wear out mouse pads. Sure, the two computer labs I run have no uniform mouse pads, but clean mouse pads that don't match are far better that all matching trashing looking ones, right? And I refuse to blow my tech budget buying expensive ones.

During this time, I realized that I was not a popular person at Office Depot. I followed their rules and tried to use coupons that they gave to me to purchase items. Every chance they got they questioned me and made me feel like I was doing something wrong but they did continue to take cartridges and give me coupons.

I was forced to point out the wording on the coupons that gave me the right to do what I was doing. I understand that I was not the normal customer. Nobody else was exchanging such a large quantity of cartridges for coupons and then buying stuff with coupons. I think it is also important to note that I had to use my own money during my spending sprees. You can't zero out using coupons. You must go over at least a little bit to buy things this way. So you buy $78.50 in merchandise and use $75 in coupons. There is no way I am going to nickel and dime my bookkeeper. I want to try to keep her as a friend. Bringing her 12 receipts for a total of $40 is not going to make her happy. She has to get audited and that is going to bring in some closer examination because the school has to then write me a check.

Around the 12th of July I went in for a drop off/purchase and saw a memorandum from Office Depot (OD) headquarters about the ink for $3 off coupons. I don't know if I was supposed to have been able to see it, but see it I did. I read it through quickly, then reread it to make sure I remembered it, before someone took it away. I should have demanded to copy it, because after July 15th OD was only giving out three coupons a day and allowing the customer to use three for purchases in a day. EXCEPT for those coupons given out before the July 15th cut off-which would expire August 31st. This meant me- I was immune to the policy change, but not the hassle involved in trying to turn them in.

I decided that it wouldn't be a problem. I mean I am naive by nature, believing this would still work out fine. I was wrong. Things got worse- much worse.

I had to nail down the managers in two stores, forcing them to read the memo that I had already read thoroughly. When I refused to accept what an assistant manger told me, the new rule- three coupons a day for any purchase, and I insisted that she was mistaken about her interpretation, she yelled at me, and stomped off saying, "You can argue all you want about memos, but you ain't getting any more than 3 coupons for this purchase." I refused, politely, to move from my place in line until I spoke with the manager. At least he was nice to me. He immediately understood that he had to go back and read the memo, and after he did he said that I could do what I had insisted all along that they let me do. The assistant manager never came near me, apologized for being rude, or even made eye contact with me.

I promise at no time did I ever raise my voice or say all the the wonderfully colorful expressions that were tickling the tip of my tongue. I had my small crew of Doss' with me and I don't want them to look back and remember that I once created a huge scene at OD when they were young. I only politely, but firmly insisted that they were not following their own guidelines.

I had a small group of other employees come and watch from a safe distance while I was told that I could use no more than 5 coupons at time for a purchase. The assistant manager was polite but refused to budge. He did call his manager who ok'ed the the 5 coupon rule modification, but after that, he insisted he could do no more or risk getting in trouble with his manager. Snickering employees nearly brought me to the edge, but what could I do? Knowing you are right is little solace when you feel humiliated by an ignorant pimple covered pack of 19 and 20 year-olds.

There was nothing I could do but return to the previous store the following day where the assistant manger hated me, but the manager knew I was right. At this point I am so dreading returning to OD that I had to force myself to do it. With $120 left to spend, I just couldn't throw it away.

Luckily, as we walked in we saw the nice cashier who rung us up the time before when the manager read the memo, and my wife and I begged her to please tell the cashier on duty that we were on the level and not trying to do anything out of whack. Thank God she did. All I could picture was me having a breakdown in the middle of the store and the guys in the white suits dragging me away while I scream, "Read the memo! My coupons are good!"

I finished up by getting 6 camera cases, a laser pointer/pen, and a 5 port switch. Total cost to me $16 and a few dirty looks. Nearly a complete success. I felt like kissing the cashier who passed on the good word.

In looking out for my students at my school, I was yelled at, humiliated and basically treated like a criminal. I don't much care for OD any longer. Ironically, guess where I have been ordering ink from, for my school, for the past few years? OFFICE DEPOT. We have a business account with them. I think that I am going to send my $5000+ worth of ink business this year to Electronic Systems Inc. (ESI). They are slower (no next day drop off), but they have never treated me badly.

I think that I will also do my best to share this story with as many of the other computer resource specialists at the other 80+ locations in my school system. Perhaps some will choose to use ESI instead. Maybe, but I am naive after all.

As soon as I can locate the proper addresses of people who run OD, I think I will be sending a letter sharing my personal experiences with OD customer service.

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