When HomeOfficeMag.com asked if I would be interested in writing a feature about buying office products online from my SOHO office, I almost lost the chance by virtue of my curt response. In essence, I told the editors it was painfully obvious that they worked in a "real" office because, for the solo homebased entrepreneur, going to the office supply store was one of the great opportunities to actually leave the nest. Permit me to explain.
Let Me Out Of Here
One of the great delights of working from my home office is the occasional time that I happen to tune into the traffic report. News of hopeless delays and 18-wheelers that have lost their load reassure me that my decision to defect from the rat race was a wise one. As a SOHO, I can sit in my temple and reflect on all the poor souls who waste a good part of their day on the cusp of a road-rage incident. However, like the inmate in solitary confinement, the home office can keep you away from humanity for inhumane periods of time. You can offset this feeling by scheduling lunches with your clients, but after a while, that practice can be a little expensive and worst of all, you have to change out of your gym shorts and four-day-old shirt to make the occasion. Sometimes, the solitude can be broken by a run to the local mailbox store, but this outing rarely lasts longer than a few minutes and in short order, I'm sitting in front of the computer again. In my view, going to the neighborhood superstore to shop for office supplies not only provides a mild form of entertainment, but it also permits me to handle all the new gadgets and stay abreast of technology. So why buy office products through the Internet?
Saving money. That's the first assumption we make about buying over the Internet, isn't it? Because the dotcoms have worked so feverishly to grab our ears and eyeballs with free offers, discounted fares and reverse auctions, it's my personal opinion that the average surfer expects to find some pretty good online deals compared to the brick-and-mortar alternatives. Convenience has been the other promise of online shopping, and with these factors in mind, I set out to do a little shopping.
I approached this subject by putting together a small list of supplies I could really use. The idea was to buy the same goods from a number of sites and compare every attribute of the experience. In addition, I wanted to compare dedicated office product companies with each other, compare the best of these to manufacturer's Web sites, and then see if I could grab a super bargain from an auction site. My market basket of goods included sticky notes, gel pens, an electric stapler, a Hewlett Packard all-in-one office machine and some antiviral software. I also compared prices for Microsoft productivity software just to see if a real bargain was out there. My goals were to see if the promises of Internet shopping were true and to save you time in sorting through the offers.
Todd D. Maddocks is a franchise attorney and small-business consultant. You can reach him at TMaddocks@aol.com.