SANFORD, FLORIDA -- Before explaining how the ink and toner cartridge recycling program is a scam, I need to share a terrible customer service experience with OfficeMax:
I had been a casual shopper at OfficeMax for over a decade, and a few years ago I decided to join the MaxPerks rewards program so that I can take advantage of the fact that I have many empty toner cartridges from the company I work for. The ink/toner recycling program set up by OfficeMax allowed you to bring in up to 10 cartridges per week, and you would get $3.00 in store credit for each cartridge. Doing this, I was able to earn between $60.00 and $120.00 in store credit per month, depending on the number of cartridges I had to bring in. I chose to spend $120 of it on office furniture, some supplies, and other small things. I used another $250 on a new HP printer/scanner. I continued saving my rewards, and in December of 2009 I decided to use them to buy a new desktop computer, valued at $700.
I printed each month's statement (which was what you needed to do to have something to give to the clerk showing your reward member number and that month's card number for entry as store credit). I walked into the store with about 8 of these sheets of paper, walked to the computer, took my computer to the register and had the clerk ring it up. The young lady at the counter was being watched by the assistant manager, and he seemed to notice I was carrying a handful of MaxPerks Rewards statements to use with this big ticket item. He took over the register and said, in a very fake-cheerful voice, "And are you going to be using cash, or credit to pay for this today?", very obviously making it clear he was excluding other forms of payment, such as what I held in my hand.
I placed the papers on the counter and said "Neither; I'll be paying with my store credit from my MaxPerks account." He immediately shook his head and spoke in a condescending voice, saying "You can't pay for this with those rewards." I asked why I couldn't, as a prior phone conversation with a member of the MaxPerks customer service confirmed that I would be able to use them on ANY item in the store, as it literally is store credit with a one-year expiration. He insisted that I can use it for only smaller items (he did not define what price was considered the maximum for a "small" item). I asked to speak to his manager, who I was sure would calmly put this guy in his place and apologize for the confusion, and finish the transaction so I could be on my way.
I was wrong. The store manager (Dan) began with a demeaning tone of voice, hostile look and defensive body language. He told me that I could not use my rewards for a computer. I asked why I couldn't, and he never gave me a direct answer--only stated that "Regional wouldn't allow it", and that they had discussed this very issue at a recent meeting. I reminded him that the OfficeMax website clearly states that I can use my MaxPerks rewards on any item in the store, same as store credit, and can use any number of months' rewards together on the same purchase as long as they have not gone over their 1-year expiry date. He said I must not have read it right. I told him that I had spoken to a member of the MaxPerks customer service earlier who had confirmed I would not have any problems using my rewards to buy a new $700 computer from the store, and he said she must have misunderstood me.
Dan proceeded to get louder and verbally abusive after I told him that it would be ethically and legally wrong for a company to promise one thing and then have a store manager deny the customer this promise. He said "You're not a 'CUSTOMER'! All I ever see you in here for is to bring us empty toner cartridges! You never buy anything...you're not a customer!" His voice was not quite a shout, but definitely a yell--everyone in the store who was within eyesight was watching, customers and employees alike. I then reminded him in a calm voice that I was just in last week to buy DVD cases and the week before to buy envelopes and bubble-wrap, and that he himself has manned the register on several of my recent purchases.
I told him I will get on the cell phone with the MaxPerks customer service so that they could speak to him. Dan said "Fine! You do that!", apparently confident that he was genuinely correct. As I was on the phone with a woman in customer service, the assistant manager got on the store phone and was hunched over it, making furtive glances back at me, presumably speaking to someone within OfficeMax upper-management regarding the situation. Dan had gone back to stocking shelves.
The customer service woman pulled up my information and confirmed that I was indeed right and should be able to use all of my rewards that day and go home with a new $700 computer. She implied, but did not say, that possibly the manager did not want to lose a big ticket item on the store's books to a store credit purchase as it would not reflect as positively as if it was bought with cash or credit card.
She was willing to speak with Dan, so I approached him and he stood up and said "So, did you get that all straightened out?", as if he seriously thought I had just been corrected by customer service. I told him "Yes, and she wants to speak to you to tell you what she told me."
He then spoke to her briefly, handed back the phone, and said she was misinformed and he will still not do it. She told me that the only thing she could do at this point was to send an email to the Regional Director (who the manager had said would agree strongly with him). All I could do at this point was thank her. She said he would likely get back to me on Monday or Tuesday, as it was Saturday and he was not in the office.
I told Dan that I will be back on Monday or Tuesday, whenever the Regional Manager called me to tell me I was legit and that he (Dan) was incorrect. The manager laughed me off. I went home without the computer, and roughly 1 hour later, I got a phone call from the Regional Manager. He told me he was aware of the entire situation and apologized for the confusion, and that I could head back to the store and use my store credit as I had planned. I told him that I would like the store manager to apologize, as he was the one who offended me, not the Regional Manager, but when I got there 15 minutes later, the employees said he left for the day.
I asked to speak to the same assistant manager who was rude to me, but the girl at the counter said he was elsewhere in the store, but didn't know where. I paid for my computer with the rewards cards I had saved, and as I walked out of the store, I saw the assistant manager come out of the back room directly behind where the clerk stood. I waved and smiled, and he just looked at me with undisguised anger. Nice.
I used my left over rewards on a new digital camera, and now that they have changed their program rules for recycling empty cartridges, and after seeing that Dan is still employed there, I will never bring my empties there OR shop there, ever again.
The same program I used has been changed drastically starting in 2010, probably because people like myself were using the program to it's full potential, and the marketing people may not have foreseen this as a possibility. They handed out small fliers at the register to let people know of the change. The flier itself is a copy of the info about the change found on the website at the time. I'm a writer, and can tell you that the wording was intentionally made extremely vague and confusing, enough so that even the customer service representative I spoke to couldn't explain the changes to me. After the first month, however, I looked at my statement in February to see what the changes meant. Basically, the rewards last only 90 days now, not a year. That's not a big deal. But apparently you need to spend actual money on items in the store and show your Rewards Card to have it applied, and an equal amount will then become available out of the store credit amount you earn with returning empty cartridges. I had brought them 40 cartridges in January, which should have given me $120 in store credit for that month. But because I only spent 30-some bucks on items using cash, only $36 of my $120 appears to be usable, and yet even still I cannot get the website to allow me to print a statement for me to use even that small amount.
Bottom line: OfficeMax is not doing the recycling program to help the environment, or to offer rewards to customers, or anything other than to profit. Each of their empty cartridges are sent to a warehouse where they can then send them in bulk to companies that refill these toner cartridges with generic toner (a common practice, as generic toner is much cheaper). Those companies can pay anywhere from $4 to $15 for each of these empties because they can sell a refilled cartridge for anywhere from $10 to $200. So there is indeed a profit to be made by OfficeMax--they just don't want to share it with the customers anymore.
I am taking my empties--and my business--elsewhere. Staples only allows 10 returned cartridges per month, but they give you $3 each in store credit that you can actually spend without having to worry about buying crap with cash to "open up" an equal amount of those saved rewards.
The Sanford store sucks, and the only thing I found pleasant about it was one great employee named Amy who was always kind and friendly--she rocks. The other employees are either apathetic, tired, bored, uninformed, rude, or like the assistant manager and store manager, extremely unfit for any type of employment dealing with other humans.
I'd recommend going to CompUSA for your office supply needs, and especially for computers. Best prices, awesome sales, and friendly, informed staff.