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 user 2006-03-14 at 10:27:00 am Views: 64
  • #14804

    New way to think of ink
    Retailers begin to offer a cheaper way to refill your printer
    as computer prices have steadily dropped, the cost of one high-tech
    necessity has remained stubbornly high. Printer cartridges are so
    costly that printer giant Hewlett-Packard Co. has long made more than
    two-thirds of its profit from selling them.

    in a move that could save consumers hundreds of dollars in replacement
    costs, several major retailers are starting to offer speedy refill
    services that replace the ink rather than the entire cartridge.

    chain Walgreen Co. plans to roll out an ink refill service – at less
    than half the cost of buying new cartridges – in 1,500 of its stores.

    Bruce, a spokesman for Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen, said it was not
    yet certain when the company’s 46 Kansas City area stores would begin
    offering the service. She said that information would not be released
    until all store schedules for the rollout were reviewed.

    an eye toward launching a national service, office supply chain
    OfficeMax Inc. is pilot-testing an ink refill service in 40 stores in
    the Chicago area. And Office Depot Inc. is also testing an ink refill
    service in 15 stores in Minnesota and North Carolina. In addition,
    smaller ink refill services are planning to open more storefronts in
    malls and hotels.

    new services allow consumers to get their cartridges refilled quickly
    while they shop, rather than having to fill the cartridges themselves
    as the do-it-yourself kits on the market require.

    Davidson, a pharmaceutical salesman in Norwalk, Iowa, said he has been
    going to a Walgreens store that has pilot-tested ink refills for the
    past six months. The drugstore, which is a mile from Davidson’s home,
    refilled his black-ink HP cartridge within minutes at “half the price
    it would normally cost me for a new cartridge,” he said. “It was easy.”
    Davidson said he has returned for four other ink refills and has
    stopped buying new HP cartridges.

    cost of ink has long been a source of frustration for computer users.
    The price of ink per milliliter from big printer manufacturers has been
    rising at about 1 percent a year, according to market watcher Lyra
    Research. Many of the big printer makers are also getting stingier with
    the amount of ink in a cartridge. For example, while a popular older HP
    black-ink cartridge, the 45A, cost $29.99 and had 42 milliliters of
    ink, its newer counterpart, the HP 96, costs the same but has only 21
    milliliters of ink.

    new services strike a blow at a major profit center for companies such
    as Lexmark International Inc. and HP, which rely heavily on ink for
    recurring revenue and profits. Indeed, HP actually loses money on its
    printers – money that it recoups through new ink and toner sales. HP
    won’t say what its margin on cartridges is, but analysts estimate the
    margin to be at least 60 percent on both ink and toner cartridges.

    year, about 1.3 billion ink cartridges are sold worldwide, according to
    Lyra. Such sales generated $30.1 billion in revenue in 2005.

    the market share of refilled and re-engineered ink cartridges is now
    projected to hit nearly 29 percent in North America by 2009, up from 23
    percent in 2005, according to Lyra.

    Tran, an HP vice president of ink and toner supplies, said the Palo
    Alto, Calif., technology giant is “closely monitoring” the new retail
    refill services. Tran said consumers should be wary of refills, however.

    HP designs its printers and its ink cartridges to work together as one
    seamless system, a refilled cartridge may not be as reliable and can
    cause streaking on printouts, he said. With a refilled cartridge,
    “there’s a big sacrifice in terms of quality,” Tran said.

    Reports magazine, for one, has said that consumers should “be wary of
    off-brands” and has “found brand-name cartridges to have better print
    quality overall.” A 2003 study by research firm QualityLogic Inc. found
    that 54 percent of the remanufactured cartridges it tested had
    problems, compared with just 1 percent of HP color-ink cartridges and 6
    percent of HP black-ink cartridges.

    Walgreen is offering a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee for its ink refill service.
    its stores, consumers can drop off their empty cartridge while they
    shop and get a refill within 15 minutes, said John Sugrue, Walgreen
    general manager of photofinishing. The stores will charge $12.99 to
    $14.99 for a black-ink refill, around 60 percent less than the price of
    some black-ink cartridges from HP, Canon Inc. and others.

    is charging a flat $14.99 for a black-ink refill, and $21.99 for a
    color-ink refill. An Office Depot spokesman declined to be specific
    about what it charges, but one of its stores in Minneapolis said
    pricing for an ink refill ranges from $9 to $18.

    savings could add up. If a consumer who uses the HP 96 black-ink
    cartridge buys five new cartridges over the course of the year, he will
    spend $149.95, excluding tax. But a consumer who refills his HP 96
    black-ink cartridge five times at an OfficeMax, which is charging a
    flat $14.99 for a black-ink refill, will only spend $74.95, excluding
    tax, in the same period. The savings over five years will approach
    $400, more than enough to pay for a new color inkjet printer at current

    the past few years, other cheap options have emerged. These include
    used cartridges that have been refurbished to work as if they are new
    by companies such as Lenexa-based Laser Cycle Inc., specialty franchise
    stores such as Cartridge World and Island Ink-Jet that refill used
    cartridges on the spot, and do-it-yourself refill kits.

    smaller firms are also planning to put refill services in mainstream
    retail locations. Save On Inks, a Boston-based ink cartridge provider,
    said it will put ink refill machines in hotels and strip malls around
    Boston and in Florida later this year. And makers of ink refill
    equipment, such as TonerHead Inc., SME Inc. and InkTec Zone America
    Corp., say other deals with retailers are in the works.

    retailers haven’t yet committed to wider rollouts. An OfficeMax
    spokesman said the retailer is “very optimistic” about launching a
    national ink refill service, but declined to be more specific. An
    Office Depot spokesman declined to comment on whether it will convert
    its ink refill pilot into a national service.

    No red ink here
    ■ Each year, about 1.3 billion ink cartridges are sold worldwide.
    ■ Sales generated revenue of $30.1 billion in 2005.
    A sample of prices
    ■ Walgreens: $12.99 to $14.99 for a black-ink refill
    ■ Office Max: $14.99 for a black-ink refill
    ■ Office Depot: $9 to $18