Lowe’s and Staples

A student working in one of our labs noticed that a piece of equipment had dead batteries, and asked me to get replacements. Nothing special, just 6 regular D-cells. The next day or so, I head to Lowe’s, and use my university card to pick them up for around $9.50, tax-exempt, for 8 batteries. I bring the receipt back to the office, and mark it up so that the cost is assigned to the right account, and am asked:

“Did you check at Staples?”

Um, no. I get everyday electrical stuff at Lowe’s. Power strips; surge suppressors; extension cords; heavy cabling, plugs, and receptacles for hooking up high-power heaters or parts of server racks; etc. There’s an industrial electronics place in town that’s good for heavier-duty batteries, but these batteries will probably last for years regardless. Staples is more for when we need a cheap network switch right now.

“Staples has a state contract, and if an item is on their contract site, we have to document that we can find it cheaper elsewhere.”

Ok. So I finally went to Staples today. Not that they can actually price check the batteries without charging and then voiding my university card:

Vendor List Price Discounted Price Battery Quantity Cost per battery
Lowe’s ~ $9.50 N/A 8 $1.19
Staples ~ $7.50 ~ $7.47 4 $1.87

The mind boggles. Office-supply stores don’t sell batteries for cheap, even if you have a contract with them. Why doesn’t the state board that wrote the contract know this?

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