Office Depot: We’re Investigating, Will Punish Lying Associates

office-depot-exteriorIt seems our post this week about possible deceptive sales practices at some Office Depots has stirred up a hornet’s nest. The story was picked up by a variety of large news sites, including Consumerist, Slashdot, DailyTech, Technologizer, Notebooks.com, and GottaBeMobile. As of this writing, on our site alone, we have generated over 50 comments, many from readers claiming to be current or former employees of Office Depot and other retail chains, with some stating that they’ve never seen a salesperson lie about notebook stock and others corroborating the story we heard from Rich and other readers. In response, Office Depot has issued the following statement:

First, as part of our commitment to providing office supply solutions to our customers, we offer numerous products and services, including service warranties and other complementary products and services for many technology products.  These offerings are similar to other sellers of consumer electronics.  Office Depot’s objective is to offer such products and services to our customers, without regard to whether a customer purchases or does not purchase service warranties or other complimentary products and services.    Although we offer a variety of sales promotions, like most retailers, we sell customers only what they wish to purchase.   We do not have, nor have we ever had, policies or strategies contrary to this objective, and we do not condone sales practices to the contrary.

Accordingly, we do not have any policies or sales objectives to limit the sales of laptop computers to only those customers who agree to purchase service warranties.  Office Depot has been recognized with numerous awards for our commitment to customer service, so please know that we take this issue very seriously and will take the necessary steps to ensure that we continue to enhance the customer experience and promote quality in our customer-related processes.  We are currently in the process of reviewing this situation, and if any associates have deviated from our sales objectives and policies, then they may be subject to disciplinary action, including termination.

At LAPTOP, we’re also continuing to follow this story by reaching out to any employees or former employees of retail stores (Office Depot or others) who may have witnessed someone lying or being told to lie about whether something was in stock. If you have news, please drop us a line at tips@laptopmag.com.

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Anton Says:

    As I read this story and the other posts about it, it would be a real shame if “any *associates* have deviated from our sales objectives and policies, then they may be subject to disciplinary action, including termination” (emphasis added) is true.

    It really seems as if the associates are, by and large, also victims in this sham. The grunts on the ground level that are forced with the Catch-22 of either lying or losing their job. If anything, it should be managers or regional managers who are penalized for developing the store policies and forcing such a situation on others.

  2. Steve Silverwood Says:

    I used to tell my friends that I make a lousy salesman because I’m too honest. I guess that’s still true….

    //Steve//

  3. Roberts Says:

    As an employee at one of the ‘honest’ stores, I hope to see the people involved with this bullshit lose their jobs. I’m only part time…but I have had several customers come from nearby stores (by nearby I mean 30 or more miles away) after being told that the store in their neighborhood does not have the quantity on hand.

    The management in my store, and myself, gladly sold those customers computers without anything…and a few even bought the $99 service after it was properly explained to them, instead of forced upon.

    Thank you for putting this story out there, because I guess the people at my store, and those at the other honest stores weren’t loud enough for the company to listen!

  4. Bill Says:

    I saw this same crap when working at Best Buy. The sales manager came by with a clipboard every hour showing the warranty and accessory numbers. Either you lie or lose your job. Nevermind the ethics poster in the break room. In the end, they said I was “too honest” to work for them and I was forced to quit.

  5. Ex - OD Worker Says:

    Everything said in the article is true. Every bit of it. It might not happen at some stores but it DOES happen at a large amount of them. I can personally vouch for three separate stores in my area that have done this and THEN some.

    This doesn’t just apply to notebooks and desktops. This applies to televisions, digital cameras, and sometimes printers. The store manager at my store as well as the assistant store managers, front-end manager, and technology manager would all advise store associated to confirm a product “out of stock” unless you could get 25% or more “market basket.” Market basket are attachments to a product from a specified list. (printer ink, paper, cable, plan for a printer. Plan, printer, UPS, Bag for a notebook. Etc). The only time it doesn’t really work out is in the printer section where the stock is usually on the floor.

    One thing that ISN’T mentioned is the practice of discounting items to “throw in” the market basket. I was selling a brand new HP Laptop and the customer didn’t want anything. Sometimes a customer just wants to replace a notebook and just doesn’t want anything. Management instructed me to tell the customer that the product was out of stock and I refused. The then advised me to “throw in” a carrying case for $5. Basically advised me to check out the girl and override the price of whatever bag they picked out to $5.

    It would get awful. Call the manager to “lock up” (where the devices are kept) to get a laptop out. The manager will ask you “what you getting with that laptop?” If you say “nothing” most of the time the manager will go talk to the customer themselves but many occasions I have been taken into lockup, told to wait for a couple of minutes, and go tell the customer that we are out of stock. The second time I was told to do this I gave my two weeks notice. That was this past fall.

    Filthy business practices.

  6. Ex - OD Worker Says:

    Another thing I forgot to mention is that managers will also advise sales associated to send customers to another store if we can’t get anything on the product. Even if we have 5 of the laptop, which is max stock, if the customer won’t get anything we will tell them we are out of stock and SEND THEM to a different Office Depot for them to deal with. A customer in my area might go to three or four different Office Depot stores trying to find a product which every single one of them have in stock and available.

    Best way to get a laptop, desktop, digital camera, etc from Office Depot is to lie to the sales associate and tell him/her that you want a PPP. Change your mind once they actually bring the product out. By that time its too late for their crock of shit.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Same thing happens at my job at Staples. It’s entrapment – lie or be fired. I have to make a living doing this in order to feed myself.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Also, Staples’ sales associates don’t even get commission. The company is a joke.

  9. george Says:

    As an ex od employee i experienced the lying on stock, the adjustment of prices to sell add ons and to just squrew the customer . A customer would go in for a printer cable and have to pay 29.99 but if you bought a printer at times that cable was 14.99.Those denying this just arenot aware of what is going on.Before you know it od will be like McDonalds bringing in help running thru the grinder to get these figures and if not out the door.They may not survive this practice.Rich the ex OD employee kind of reminds me of Jose Canseco blowing the whistle on steroids and Od Corporate is like baseball owners turning their deaf ears to this problem until someone blew the whistle. Did we really think they would do any difference than what they said when this was uncovered.

  10. Anonymous1 Says:

    I’m an ex-manager at Staples. I can most certainly confirm these actions are taking place. If your store did not have at least a 30% attachment rate then you got reamed by your district manager. Weekly conference calls consisted of the DM yelling like a maniac on the phone about how to get our attachment numbers up and if it doesn’t happen then we will be replaced with people that will make it happen. They call it CIPS. Cable Ink Paper Service plan. I consider myself a fair salesperson but the environment created by upper management really forced these associates to do unethical things such as lie about in-stock level, etc. I hope this comes out more because I even never seen such poor business ethics in my life. I’m very glad to be out of retail. We were also told to tell customer that the ink that comes with a printer is only a “starter cartridge” and has very litte ink in it when in fact they were full. This was an attempt to get the Ink part of CIPS. Associates would tell customers all the time we were out of stock on an item if they were not buying any attachments when in fact the item was sitting right in the stock room. Because of the environment created by the DM and corporate, a no sale was considered a better alternative by the associate rather than a 0% attachment rate. Ughhh I can’t believe I used to have to deal with that every day.

  11. Ex OD Str Mgr Says:

    As a former store manager for over 1 year… yes this does happen. Frequently. In a district in Metro Atlanta, it was common at district meetings to discuss with other managers what shady practices we can come up with or use in order to drive the attachment rates of warranty plans etc. It was all driven from upper management. We had to meet results, bottom line. So, we used unfair practices in many cases. Most people do not realize there is 0 dollars in selling technology. That is why I am so happy to be out of Office Depot. Being an office supply store… why sell tech items at big discounts? An advertised laptop for 499.99 with instant or rebate savings of say 100 bucks. The cost of that laptop… about 469.99. So sell it for 399.99. They lose 130 dollars. So attaching items to the sale was crucial in gaining back some margin. Given the economy, well, consumers do not want the extra crap to go with a laptop or printer. No wonder Office Depot stock sitting at a 1.00, 112 stores closings. It is not all the economy, if they would shake up the top level execs (they have no freaking clue) and get back to basics which is supplies. That is were the freaking profit is. Look at Staples, they are not great either, but they have drastically changed their approach and their stock manages to stay in the teens at least.
    —> Not to mention the FCC investigation and all the state wide investigations of alleged illegal price manipulation on state agency contracts in the MILLIONS!!! Office Depot can go to hell in my book

  12. john Says:

    First off this is crazy why the hell cant you sell a tds????? This is a joke if you cant. A monkey = cashiers even sell them at our store how funny. BTW to all those who need to know TDS is suppose to be past 30% and PPPs only 5 % My stores goal is 360 a day in PPP s and TDS and we meet it.

  13. ms peterson Says:

    Of course OD corporate is not instructing its employees to break the law. It has however created a hostile and intimidating environment for its employees by setting unreasonable quotas on the sales of warranty add-ons for technology and harassing and threatening employees with PIPS who don’t make the quotas. Remember, they can terminate you for anything or nothing – making up a reason just makes them look better. And for those who castigate the hourly employees accused of illegal sales practices, ask yourself what sort of environment would make employees on a LARGE SCALE resort to such tactics to hang on to their job. This hostile environment and the OD stock collapse started long before the recent stock market collapse and is a direct reflection on corporate management. These stories aren’t isolated incidents, they’re nationwide as are the allegations regarding overcharging for office supply contracts. The turmoil you see on the msg boards is just the tip of the iceberg. Any longtime OD employee will tell you that it was once a great place to work – as was once printed on the paychecks: “your hard work made this check possible”

  14. G Harris Says:

    This is along standing policy with this store brand and many others-espiecally Best Buy.

    And yes there are laws against this practice but as long as there is no accountabliliy there will be no change.
    ONly when these companies are fined big bucks will anything change.

    ONe way to shrink our expanding national and regional debt……………….Fine companies big bucks there is plenty of coruption to go around…………………………..

  15. Lisa Says:

    TMS Health out of Boca Raton operates a call center for office depot. The phone no. is 1-866-779-9941 you can call three different times and get three different prices for the same item. As a former employee we were to call customers of office depots to get them to buy from us their account manager and not order on the web. We had to follow a script that says : as your account manager we have access to better available pricing. In office depot’s ordering system their is a way for the associate to change the price.

    We were also told even if a person asked not to called aka do not call list we were still not to list the customer as do not call and and to keep calling them.

  16. Scott Says:

    This just happened to me…………
    They ended up selling me the floor model…….
    after the sales pitch I declined extended warranty they the said oh darn we are out of stock…
    The next day I called talked to a different guy he said they just got one in.
    I rushed over…then he said he had miss spoke…they didnt really get one in?
    After raising a little cain they sold me the floor model…..for the advertised price….
    I suspected something was up……

  17. Ere Says:

    I have a question. We went to best buy today and we were looking at laptops. We found on we liked and the guy checked if they had them in stock he said that they didnt we also asked if we could buy he display but he said they had a contract with dell so the coudnt sell it. We called later in the day to find out what the model number is and they tell us that they dont have that laptop in the store and that the display was sold.So we go home and we are looking on other websites for the same laptop.We go on the bestbuy website and they have a full order of those laptops and the price is 450 dollars more expensive. So they have a store full of the laptops but they are lying to us. Is there a way to make them own up and make them sell us the laptop for 749 dollars.

  18. DW Says:

    Unfortunately, horrendous retail sales practices like this are nothing new, and it is very difficult for the average retail consumer to protect themselves because the tactics are so underhanded, so devious that the such a consumer has almost no hope of having the knowledge necessary to identify them. A local chain store of TV’s and small appliances years ago was raked over the coals for bait-and-switch advertising, and it seemed everyone knew it.

    Tactics like lying about stock should be handled under federal law, but we’re so busy bailing out GM I doubt anyone bothers to take notice, and its the consumer that gets stuck. Sounds like Office Depot is just one step away from the notorious ripoff camera stores in New York that lowball cheap prices for high-end cameras, then give you all manner of double-talk when you refuse to buy their ridiculous add-ons or service contracts.

    Interestingly, I see that some claim Best Buy to engage in similar practices, but in most of their stores their stock is in plain view, so it seems it would be harder to tell someone its out of stock if they can see a pallet of them not ten feet away…I know of someone who bought a laptop there and was given virtually no pressure to buy a warranty…asked possibly once, declined, and moved on.

  19. JD Says:

    I have a few friends that worked for Office Depot when this story broke, the companys big solution for this problem was to write up every employee telling them that they never told any associate to lie about stock. Oh yeah like that is going to help. Just before one of my friends wised up and quit his crappy job I went to take his keyes to him and there was a big sign on the lounge door. “Are you worth the hours your getting? “and it listed all the employees name with the hours worked compared to how many PPP they sold. Im glad my friends quit they are better off living off mom and dad then putting up with crap like that.

  20. MJ Says:

    Let’s talk about the tech services offered at OD. If you go in for a free check up, there is a place to answer a few questions about what may be wrong with your computer… like “do you think you may have a virus” or “have you noticed your computer running slower”. Pretty typical type questions, right? Well if you answer no to all of them your check up will “recomend” a tune up service or something else like a memory upgrade. But if you answer yes to any of the questions you will automatically have the recomendation of a$169 or $199 diagnostic and repair type of service. Try it on their website. There is a link under tech depot-services to run a free checkup. Do it once and say no to the questions and then do it again with a yes and see what happens.

  21. Irene DelBono Says:

    The other thing that salespeople do is tell you the extended warranty covers ANY damage – even deliberate damage – that you can run your computer over with your car and bring it in and get a new one. I asked to read the warranty, and there in black and white it said it did not cover abuse, dropping, etc.
    Staples told me I needed their extended warranty on a Brother color laser printer. They said they would send someone right out to my house – that it would cost me more to ship the machine to get it fixed then it was worth (it was huge and heavy) and Brother wouldn’t pay the shipping. I read the Brother warranty, and not only do they come out to fix the machine, but I had toner that leaked all over and they sent a repairman to fix it AND clean it, plus sent a free replacement high capacity toner, even though I bought it from Egghead and not directly from Brother.
    I also was told that I couldn’t load my laptop with the MS Office I already had for my desktop – that the licensing wouldn’t allow it. I went home and read the license, and Microsoft allows you to load Office on a laptop in addition to the desktop.
    It really pays to read the fine print!

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