I bought a $70 printer to return things I bought online during the pandemic – and it was my best decision yet

a side by side shows a printer and a package
I bought an HP DeskJet from Amazon because I was fed up with struggling to find a printer for online returns.

  • Online shopping surged during the pandemic, and it made me realize the value of printers.
  • Some sites don’t make it easy to return things, and many stores stopped accepting in-person returns.
  • I bought one off Amazon and I wish I’d done it sooner.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I never thought I’d own a printer. Then the pandemic hit.

In my mind, it was a dusty household staple that my parents owned when I was a kid. As a 20-something living in the digital age, what need did I have for physical copies of anything?

But after a year shut inside my apartment, which followed years of already slowly growing addicted to shopping online, I got fed up. The friction involved in returning something I ordered online was too much – especially when some stores stopped accepting in-person returns for digital orders.

How many times have you lazily put off printing a return label, only for the window to close, leaving you with something that doesn’t fit and your wasted money in the retailer’s pockets? Be honest.

So I pulled the plug, and I bought a $70 HP DeskJet from Amazon, which came with ink cartridges, and a package of copy paper.

It’s made me feel like I can rule the world, or at least lets me more easily get my money back on something I don’t want.

6 out of 8 colleagues told me they didn’t have a printer

a pile of packages is seen in the corner
I know I’m not the only one with a pile of online orders sitting in the corner…

As a quick test, I asked my teammates on Slack if they owned a printer. Six people said they didn’t, and two people said they did.

Obviously, owning a printer isn’t a novelty – plenty of people do. In 2019, 62% of American households had one in fact, according to Deloitte.

But I’m likely not the only one who was driven to buy one during the pandemic when stores and offices closed and people flocked in droves to shopping online.

As Bloomberg’s Tara Lachapelle noted in a mid-2020 column about a printer comeback, the surge in online shopping “brought with it the inconvenience of needing to make returns and print shipping labels. That’s something office workers may have tended to do – shh! for I must whisper this part – at the office.”

Deloitte estimated that the home printer market would surge 15% in 2020 to $29 billion. I took a bite out of that market last month when I bought my printer.

I can print labels from my iPhone. It’s so easy.

a printer sits on a desk
Easy peezy.

My HP DeskJet is Bluetooth-enabled, meaning I can print things wirelessly from my iPhone. The HP Smart app helped me easily set everything up and showed me how to insert the ink cartridges.

I buy most things on the internet: shoes, clothes, skincare products. And since I moved recently, I’m also buying bath mats, shower curtains, sheets, and other household items. Not everything looks good or turns out to be what I wanted.

Take, for example, a blue-green shower curtain I bought from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. It didn’t make the cut, so I downloaded the return label on my iPhone and selected HP Smart as my printing option.

Then, with my handy dandy packaging tape dispenser in hand, I attached the label to the package and taped it shut.

a roll of tape is shown next to a package
Don’t judge my taping job…

I stack the packages by the door and run them to UPS, FedEx, or USPS whenever I’m headed out.

It’s worth noting that some retailers won’t make you return items but will still give you your refund – Amazon has done this to me a couple of times in the past. And also, some – including Amazon – won’t require you to print a return label. They’ll simply ask you to take it to a carrier that will handle that for you (though sometimes for a fee).

But some retailers won’t let you return certain items in-store, only online.

So at the end of the day, it’s nice to have the printer in the apartment, where I can print the label and affix it to the package in one go.

The nostalgia doesn’t hurt either.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why printer ink is so expensive

  • Printer ink can often be more expensive than the printer itself.
  • Using an outdated “razor-and-blades” business model, printer companies sell printers at a loss and make up for it in ink sales.
  • Printer companies do whatever they can to squash competition from more economical and sustainable third party options by frequently updating the firmware in the cartridges.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: A gallon of printer ink can cost you $12,000. When in cartridge form, it’s more expensive than vintage Champagne and even human blood. In fact, it can be cheaper to buy an entire printer than it is to purchase new ink cartridges. So why is printer ink so expensive?

Let’s start with the first printers. No, not that far. No. Come on. There we go. Inkjet printers were first developed in the 1960s, and early computer inks were made from food dye and water. Because of this, they would fade after a few months, so companies had to develop a dye that gave permanent photographic quality. In 1988, Hewlett-Packard achieved just that, with the first mass-market inkjet printer, which sold for about $1,000. But a lot has changed since then.

Today, you can buy a brand-new printer for around $35. But there’s a catch. When the ink runs out in one of these printers, you need to buy specific cartridges, and these cartridges are expensive. So why are the cartridges so pricey?

David Connett: Oh that’s simple: greed. And an outdated razor-and-blades model.

Narrator:  This is David Connett. He’s the former editor of The Recycler and has been lobbying for change in the printer-ink industry for years.

Connett: They sell the printers cheap. They sell the consumables at a very expensive price. And basically it’s a formula: The cheaper the printer, the more expensive the consumables.

Narrator:  Once you’ve bought a printer that uses cartridges you’re trapped in a cycle. You have no choice but to buy them, or throw away your printer. As a printer is typically a one-time purchase, companies don’t mind selling them at a loss and making the money back through cartridge sales. The HP Envy 4520 all-in-one printer, for example, sells for $70 but is estimated to cost $120 to manufacture. The loss they make on printers means that companies need to sell ink cartridges to make a profit, and this model has led to a battleground between printer manufacturers and third-party ink suppliers. The companies do everything they can to keep you buying official ink cartridges. Manufacturers install microchips into their cartridges and frequently issue firmware updates to prevent the use of third-party ink, which can be more affordable.

Connett: Last year, almost 900 firmware upgrades were issued by just nine printer manufacturers, so that’s almost three a day. I mean, that’s just, like, either absolute incompetence, ’cause you’ve got to do it so much, or it is a definite stealth tactic to control the market.

Narrator: Printer companies attribute the high costs to the research and development that goes into perfecting printer ink. The materials they use, however, cost very little.

Connett: The manufacturing cost of ink is between €20 and €40 a liter.

Narrator: And a lot of the ink you buy never even gets used for printing. According to a 2018 test by Consumer Reports, more than half the ink you buy could end up lost in maintenance cycles for cleaning the printheads. And printers that use multiple-color ink cartridges also stop working as soon as one color runs out, even if the other colors are still full. These days, you’re getting even less for your money. While the cartridges themselves are the same size and price, they often contain far less ink inside than they used to. The ink in many manufacturers’ cartridges has shrunk from 20 mil to around 5 mil over the past few years, without any reduction in price. The original-size 20 mil cartridges are often still on sale but are often sold as extra-large cartridges for even more money. And some new cartridges can have as little as 3 milliliters of ink inside. Some companies have now even started ink subscriptions, deactivating your cartridges remotely if you print more than your allocated pages. Laser printers offer a lower-cost alternative to inkjet but produce a lower-quality printed image. The real solution for many, though, would be to offer more-efficient ink cartridges.

Connett: This product, you know, can be better engineered. They could liaise with the aftermarket to actually, you know, find a solution that works for everybody because, you know, this, ultimately, this is bad for the consumer, because it’s overpriced and expensive, and it’s bad for the environment, because it doesn’t need to be made that way.

Narrator: We reached out to Canon and HP for comment. HP replied with this statement:

“Original HP ink and toner cartridges deliver the best possible printing experience for customers. We make significant investments in R&D each year to provide the highest levels of print quality, safety and environmental sustainability. When customers purchase HP, they are reducing plastic waste and contributing to a circular economy. And we work tirelessly to maximize value for our customers, including Instant Ink, our “ink delivery” subscription service which includes ink, shipping and recycling.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on August 19, 2019. 

Read the original article on Business Insider