Are Memberships Worth the Cost?

This article has the potential to elicit a spirited debate.  Some people have no qualms about paying membership fees for places like Costco or Sam's club, Barnes & Noble, etc.  Others absolutely refuse to participate.  How do you feel?  Does the industry/business charging the fee play into your decision?  I'm not referring to rewards programs - most rewards programs at places I shop are free.  I'm talking about membership programs that have an annual fee.

OEX has a rewards program that is free to join.  So does Office Depot/OfficeMax.  And Staples.  And many other independent office products dealers.  It makes good business sense to give back to your customers.  But aside from the rewards program, Staples also has several business memberships that you can purchase. I found 4 separate memberships when I was looking around on their site.  And, of course, we're all familiar with Amazon Prime.  Amazon has Prime for personal use, Amazon Business and Amazon Business Prime Shipping.


So, back to the original question:  Is it worth the money?  Let's take a look at the Staples and Amazon programs.

  1. Staples Plus (for small businesses) has a $49 annual fee, for which you receive special business pricing, free next day delivery, $50 toward Tech Services, $50 toward Print services, $2 back on cartridges you recycle, free shredding up to 20 pounds, with 20% off additional pounds and free online account management.

  2. Staples Premium (for medium to large businesses) has an annual fee which I logically presume is significantly higher than Staples Plus, but I couldn't find anywhere on the site that gave the amount. They wanted me to fill out a form to agree to be contacted by a sales rep. Anyway, the Premium membership gives you special pricing and free delivery also, with a dedicated account manager, 30-day invoicing, 3% off orders of $250 or more, special copy paper and Keurig pricing, 25% off copy and print services and preferred partner discounts.

  3. Staples Business Advantage has 2 levels - Select ($79 annual fee) and Premium ($299 annual fee). The only significant difference I saw between the Business Advantage memberships and the other two was some invoicing and reporting options, a couple enhanced capabilities on the website and a mobile app that offers Scan to Order capability and order approval functions. Otherwise, the benefits were eerily similar.

Now for the fine print:  free delivery is for orders over $25 for the Plus membership and over $49.99 for the other three and there are lots of additional charges they may add to your order for things like desktop delivery, special order delivery, etc. Did you notice that the higher level memberships have to spend more to get the free delivery?  Normally, the higher the level, the better the benefits. The copy and print discount appears to be only for copies you make in store.  Tech services are in store only as well - you have to bring your computer to their store to have it fixed.   The cartridge recycling is only available if you've spent a certain amount in ink/toner purchases during the month you request the recycling reward. And you have to bring the cartridges to the store.

You get the idea.  There are a host of exclusions at the bottom of the membership page. If you're not satisfied with your membership, Staples will refund your membership fee - but only if you've already spent a certain amount of money with them during the year.

Now let's talk about Amazon.  We're all familiar with regular Amazon Prime - pay a monthly ($12.99) or yearly ($119) fee and get free 2-day shipping.  Again, the fine print is that not all products apply for prime shipping.  Businesses have two choices - Amazon Business  and Amazon Business with a Business Prime Shipping Plan.  Amazon Business is free.  You receive special business pricing and quantity discounts, free shipping on orders over $25 and approval ordering with budget controls.  There are a few ifs, ands or buts, but that's the gist of it.  Shipping can take 5-8 business days.  

Can't wait that long for your items?  Want the 2-day shipping for your business account?  You're in luck!  You can sign up for Business Prime Shipping.  There are 4 plans that are based on the number of users you have on your account:  Up to 3 users - $179 per year. Up to 10 users - $499 per year. Up to 100 users - $1299 per year.  Over 100 users - $10,099 per year. 


Yes, you read that correctly.  That's a whole lot of money to pay for "free" shipping.  And yes, even if you pay for this membership, not all items are eligible for prime shipping.

-- Office Express provides the same important benefits for FREE! --

So, once again, I ask:  Is the membership worth the cost?  Office Express already offers most of these perks for free and you can support the economy in your area by keeping your purchases local.  In Staples' case, many of the perks require you to come to the store to receive them.  That means you have to spend your time or send another staffer to the store (on company time).  Time is money.  Is the savings you're getting more than the cost of the employee's pay?  If the answer is yes, you've got a good deal.  If not, it's time to reevaluate.  Plus, is it really convenient to have to go to the store?  And Amazon?  Well, I think the fees speak for themselves.  It's hard to justify spending that kind of money just for free delivery (and have exclusions apply no less).  There's no personal service with Amazon either.

Before you sign up for a membership program, analyze your company needs and your spending to make sure it's the right move for you.  Call us at 877-795-2600 and let us show you how we can simplify your ordering and save you money - for free.

All information accurate/verified as of April 25, 2018