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Make careful choices for consumables

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It's no secret that the original equipment cost for printers and copiers is only part of the overall cost, writes Michael Powell, product marketing manager at Kyocera Mita South Africa.

During the expected life of the product, there are maintenance costs and, most importantly, the costs of consumables to keep the printing and copying running.
While there is not much you can do about paper costs, apart from managing usage, customers find that there are a number of possibilities regarding toner or ink – sometimes even spare parts as well. Looking at price alone, some of these seem very attractive. Some offer products at a fraction of the price of authorised products, with anything up to an 80% saving.
Our company deals with toner products but we know that the same applies to ink cartridges as well.
What the customer needs to consider before they buy such products is what risk of additional expenses they might be looking at.
Losing the maintenance warranty on your equipment is a major risk which becomes almost inevitable if you use unauthorised consumables. Beyond that, there are the extra risks of increased downtime and more frequent maintenance cycles.
Whatever you might save in running costs will almost definitely be cancelled out by lost productivity and paying for equipment repairs that would have been covered by your contract if you stayed with genuine consumables.
Let's be very clear about the type of products that are involved. Once you are not buying the authorised manufacturer's product from a genuine dealer or vendor, you will be buying either a "compatible" product or maybe an actual "counterfeit" product that appears to be the real thing but isn't.
This is best understood in terms of grey market and black market products – descriptions that are familiar from other market sectors.
The "compatible" products are made by large companies who have their own reputation to protect. Although they might not offer a complete guarantee that their products will work without any problems, they will support them with some sort of after-sales backup and they have an investment in making sure that customers are kept happy. These are what you might call grey market operations.
On the black market, you find less reliable products that really offer no support if anything goes wrong. Sometimes, these are fraudulently packaged to resemble or look like the authorised manufacturer's product.
That brings us to the important question of where you buy the product. If it didn't come from an approved dealer, you should check carefully to see what you are really getting. If you buy a "compatible" or (apparently) "genuine" product from a retailer – or as a result of adverts in papers, on the internet or on TV – you need to make sure that the seller will stand by you if there are negative results.
Obviously, the warranty offered by equipment manufacturers will only be valid if authorised products are used. Manufacturers go to a lot of trouble to make sure they can check this. Products are specially marked – much like software – so that a fake product can be detected. This even involves special chemical markers so that ink or toner can be tested to see if it is genuine.
This is not to say that grey market products are policed in the sometimes punitive way that the music or software vendors use when they find pirated products.
What we really need to emphasise, as an industry, is the range of benefits that you get when you use genuine products, rather than "compatible" products. As already noted, there are three major concerns – and these are worth repeating.
Firstly, the use of unauthorised consumables will typically lead to problems in terms of warranties.
Secondly, if there is some sort of maintenance issue as a result, the equipment manufacturer will probably charge for repairs. Whether the consumables manufacturer or supplier would then offer the customer some recompense is a matter of what they agreed to – preferably in writing – when the product was purchased.
Thirdly, there are costs involved in extra downtime which will vary from one company to another on the basis of their usage and overall business model. Some companies can run without a printer for days with only small inconvenience, others might have significant losses within hours.
Using genuine consumables and parts removes all the above risks. The equipment will have longer maintenance cycles, the costs will often be covered as part of the contract agreement and there is no risk that warranties will be invalidated.
As with any business decision, there are always risks. It is up to the customer to decide whether the risks of using unauthorised products are outweighed by the savings.
If the decision is taken to use "compatible" products, it is critically important that customer checks what support is really being offered and understands the risk exposure involved.