Staples, Where ‘Item In Stock’ Means ‘Meh, I Don’t Feel Like It’

Perhaps irrationally, Robert thought that because the Staples website said that the tablet he desired was “in stock” at the nearest Staples store, that meant that it would be available for purchase. You can’t be too sure, so he called up the store. Yes: they had three tablets! Score! He drove to the store to bring home his precious, precious Nexus 7. The very same employee he had spoken to on the phone dispatched someone to get the tablet, and he was told that there were none in stock.

The tablet-fetching employee, as it turns out, just didn’t want to dig the boxes out from the middle of a pallet. Robert copied us on his letter to Staples’s CEO.

You’ve got a bit of a problem: Your store employees are counting items as “in stock” that they’re not willing to sell.

In the afternoon of Friday, November 2, I wanted to purchase a Google Nexus 7 tablet (Staples Item #949231), so I used the Staples website to check the in-store availability at the closest Staples [redacted]. The website said to call the store for availability. I did, and the sales associate looked it up and told me there were three in stock.

So I drove to the store. I went to the single open register and it was the same associate who I’d spoken to on the phone. She remembered me, and called for someone to go and get the tablet. This is where things went wrong. The employee who was to get the tablet said, no, they are out of stock. I told him I had just called and there were three in stock. The associate at the register confirmed to him that yes, she’d looked it up and there are three available plus one more damaged unit. He said, yes, there are in fact three buried in the middle of a pallet but he’s not going to get one out. He said if I came back late that night they “might” be available.

I looked at him disbelievingly, and he said “Or you could order one from us.” I asked, “What does that do for me?” He said, “You’d place an order and we will ship it your house or the store for free.” Seriously? When both I and the tablets were already there? I told him “Well, this was a wasted trip.” I left, with no tablet.

If you’re going to have an inventory tracking system, you can’t have it counting items you aren’t willing to sell. I wasted 45 minutes of my time driving to your store and back for absolutely nothing. This left a very bad impression, and as a result I will be quite unlikely to continue considering Staples for purchases.

“Easy?” Hardly. If you’re not willing to sell something–even if it’s physically in your store–you cannot say you have it in stock. Not good, sir. Not good.

See, what I hear there is “Go home and order it online for in-store pickup, because my shift will be over by then and it will be someone else’s problem.”

Update: Robert reports back that a few hours before this post went up, he heard back from the Office of the President at Staples. They offered him a $20 gift card for his trouble…which is nice, but is it sufficient? He writes:

Whether that’s enough to make me consider going back there, I’m not sure. $20 would, just barely, cover the cost of my gas from the original trip plus a second one–but who’s to say they’d actually sell me the tablet if I went back? Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice….

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.