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How the Pandemic Disrupted Ink & Toner Indirect Spend When We Weren't Looking

Published on
April 2, 2022 9:00:00 AM PDT April 2, 2022 9:00:00 AM PDTnd, April 2, 2022 9:00:00 AM PDT

The pandemic allowed commerce to continue with companies allowing employees to #WFH and continue even with #HybridWorkEnvironments.....giving out home-office “allowances” for purchases like monitors, keyboards….and yes, you guessed it….better work from home office printers. The downside of this was that specifically printer ink and toner spend became #RogueSpend as there were no requirements for printer model standardization.

You might be asking yourself...why is printer model selection so important to your overall ink and toner cartridge spend?

Well, if your company allows employees to outfit themselves with a cheap solution when it comes to a new home office printer, they likely are not thinking ahead at whether that printer is cost effective to supply as they are more concerned with staying within budget on the hardware.

Think most employees are going back to the office? Think again! In a recent press release, HP Inc announced they are purchasing POLY, a leading global provider of workplace collaboration solutions. Why did HP do this, you might ask? Because the writing is on the wall….#hybridwork is here to stay and it has changed the rules for procurement. If procurement teams don’t act now and start standardizing printer model selections for their hybrid work employees, their ink and toner spend is doomed to become a tactical category where they will have to try to stop bleeding money but by then it will be too late.

“The rise of hybrid work is creating sustained demand for technology that enables seamless collaboration across home and office environments. Approximately 75% of office workers are investing to improve their home setups to support new ways of working. Traditional office spaces are also being reconfigured to support hybrid work and collaboration, with a focus on meeting room solutions. Currently, there are more than 90 million rooms, of which less than 10% have video capability. As a result, the office meeting room solutions segment is expected to triple by 2024.”

If you’re in Procurement and you think your ink and toner spend is under control, think again. Since the pandemic started and employees were forced to work from home for the last two years, sales for “small office” printers and multifunction printers (MFPs) skyrocketed. Of the 82 printers and MFP’s Brother USA has listed on their website as "current models"…..68 of them are out of stock, and 5 of them are their top sellers! Of their available 54 Business Workgroup printers, 36 of them are actually out of stock...and look at HP’s lineup is no different. But what does this tell us? It tells us that the work from home office environments scrambled to replace their slow and poor-performing inkjet printers with better-performing laser printers and MFPs, given that they had a budget from their corporate office and were able to expense these buys without Procurement having any say in the matter. This means Procurement’s idea that their ink and toner spend is managed went out the window in 2020 and 2021, and it’s not getting any better.

While traditional brick and mortar office supplies big box stores (think Staples, Office Depot and Office Max) have had year over year declines in foot traffic resulting in an average sales decline of about 6-7%, e-commerce sales for office supplies (think the “big three” above plus Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target and Costco too) has sharply increased.

“E-commerce office supplies sales grew 18% year over year in 2021, and are up 77% over 2019", according to NPD. Leen Nsouli, executive director and office supplies industry analyst for NPD, said that "e-commerce's share of core office supplies and stationary categories has stood around 27% to 28%, which is up about 11 points since pre-pandemic periods."

Sales for office staples such as printer ink and toner rose 129% in 2020 at mass merchants including Walmart, Sam's Club, Target and Costco, according to analytics firm 1010data. That fell somewhat (15%) in 2021 but remains up 95% over 2019 levels.

All of that is partly a testament to the endurance of work-from-home arrangements through a second year of the pandemic. The new normal is expected by many to persist, and it could do much to reshape the category. Inna Kuznetsova, CEO of 1010data, points to growth in office electronics categories, which rose 95% in 2021 compared to 2019. "For me, that signifies the fact that a lot of people have decided to invest in better equipment … with an intent to work from home for a long time," Kuznetsova said in an interview.”

If you think ink and toner spend is on the decline or that “print is dead” within your organization, think again, as the pandemic has changed everything we once thought about this category for the long-term, given that work from home and hybrid work is here to stay. According to Forbes Magazine, the office supply category is still the #1 business expense that is more negotiable than we think. So the question you should be asking yourself now is, how do we regain strategic control over this never-ending need for printer cartridges?

Unlike the big box stores with the expensive brand names and overwhelming options to choose from, we at Quality Imaging Solutions steer away from just a transactional interaction by providing a more concierge-approach to ink and toner cartridge spend management. Call us today for a free evaluation!