The retail inkjet cartridge refilling industry received some good press yesterday when PCWorld’s Jeff Bertolucci, who calls himself the publication’s “Serial Refiller,” praised his experiences refilling HP 60 inkjet cartridges at Costco as his “best refill experience yet.” Previously, the author has experimented with using Office Depot’s remanufactured inkjet cartridges (see News Briefing, “PCWorld Says Office Depot-Brand Remanufactured Inkjet Cartridges Offer Lower Prices and Lower Print Quality”) and using InkTec’s do-it-yourself home refill kit.
The author found that Costco provides useful information in a brochure and on its website for a successful refilling experience. Other pros included the low cost of refills (less than half the price of purchasing the OEM HP 60 black and tricolor cartridges), experienced and knowledgeable refilling staff, a “painless” experience in getting the cartridges refilled within an hour, better yield than the OEM cartridges, and a cost per page of 11 cents versus 27 cents with the OEM cartridges. The cons, according to the author, are the dialog boxes that popped up once the printer recognized that the product was not a genuine HP cartridge, the annual membership fee for joining Cotsco, and poorer print quality compared to that provided by the original cartridges. Although the author found the print quality of the refilled cartridges to be “adequate,” he admits text was sharper, colors were more brilliant, and flesh tones were more realistic with the OEM SKUs.
Comparing his experiences with do-it-yourself refill kits, remanufactured cartridges, and retail refills, Bertolucci writes, “Costco’s cartridge-refill service is my favorite option so far. The do-it-yourself refill kit that I tested offered the best cost per page and output quality, but entailed the most hassle. When I tried Office Depot remanufactured cartridges, they provided paltry savings and underwhelming output quality. The Costco ink’s output quality was also not quite as good as HP’s, but the refilling was so easy and so cheap that for me the trade-off was worthwhile.”
Costco currently offers inkjet cartridge refilling at approximately 115 stores across the United States. We have heard that the provider of the equipment is Retail Inkjet Solutions, and the units are serviced nationwide by Pitney Bowes. A positive review of Costco’s refilling service in a mainstream and popular publication like PCWorld is good news not only for Costco and Retail Inkjet Solutions but for the industry as a whole. Other companies involved in this industry include Ink-O-Dem (see Actionable Briefing, “More Retailers Place Ink-O-Dem Refilling Units—What’s Up?”), which has its machines in Walgreens, Micro Center, certain Ace Hardware stores, and other locations; Phoenix Ink, which manufactured OfficeMax’s refilling equipment; and various retail franchise operations such as Cartridge Depot, Cartridge World, Island Ink-Jet, Rapid Refill, and others.
Good press such as this can even encourage other retailers to consider installing their own refilling equipment. Cartridge refilling can be an extremely profitable add-on to a business. Margins are good because the customer provides the empty cartridge core, and the scarcity and cost of empties is a continual plague on conventional remanufacturers’ businesses. While retail refilling operations may appear to threaten conventional remanufacturers’ businesses, the good news for remanufacturers is that most retail refilling machines can refill only a limited number of SKUs, and some retailers that offers these services may be more likely to carry remanufactured cartridges as well to expand their lineup of products for customers.