OEM printer supplies revenue is under attack again. Like an old fish carcass lying at the bottom of the sea, every passer-by is having a little nibble at it. The latest little nibbler to come along is the ink cartridge refilling machine and even worse news for the OEMs is that there is some serious take-up for the machines.
Of the big three OP retailers, OfficeMax has 50 of the machines in stores in the Chicago area where it has been piloting the service and plans an official launch later. Depot also has a pilot programme underway for ink refilling in Minnesota and North Carolina, working with the vendor TonerHead, and Staples is also monitoring the situation although it doesn’t think it is ready for "primetime" yet.
So there’s clear interest among the specialist OP retailers, and also from other general retailers such as the US drugstore company Walgreens.
The ink cartridge refilling machines have been born somewhat out of necessity as the DIY home refill kits, available at a large number of retailers including mass market stores such as Tesco and Wal-Mart’s Asda in the UK, have always been dogged by their inherently messy nature. Those kits include the necessary tools to get into a cartridge, drill a hole and then refill the vessel with ink through a syringe. You may wonder who could be bothered to do all that but plenty of people do, rather than pay for a new OEM cartridge. So, you can see where the idea for a machine that does it all for you has become an attractive option for a cut-price, no-mess cartridge refill.
Of course, the success of the machines will depend on how the final product works for the consumer. It will come down to how much people are ready to sacrifice a bit of quality for a cheaper price. It’s pretty much the same choice you get whenever you go to a supermarket. Do you get the cheaper but less quality brand or do you go for quality above everything.
Hewlett-Packard spokesman Neil Bayley recognises that ultimately it up to the customer to decide and that there will always be some people who are willing to "accept trade-offs in quality and reliability to save a little money".
So, the OEMs will continue to preach superior quality while their rivals in the supplies market will provide cheaper solutions. But, after ink cartridge refilling machines in drugstores, whatever next we will see – robots that come into your house to do the whole thing for you? Don’t bet against it. There’s gold in them there ink cartridges.