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Shop smart: The case for delivery over drop-in

As the summer winds down (sad face), this is the time for many to start gearing up for the craziness that comes with a renewed commitment to get back to the grind. September brings a sense of a fresh start as we use the energy boost we were hopefully able to take advantage of over the holidays (summer camp operators – your time is coming!)

With the get-back-to-business mentality often comes thoughts of restocking on supplies for the coming months. It’s one of the reasons why August and September are the busiest times for office supplies companies. As you think about stocking up for the fall, we encourage you to consider an important purchasing best practice: have your supplies delivered!

Over the course of our work with a variety of nonprofit organizations, we’re often surprised by the amount of in-store shopping we see. While it can be a necessary last-minute solution for an urgent need, many organizations are making it regular practice to shop at retail stores for their ongoing needs. It’s understandable – going shopping provides a convenient, on-demand approach to getting what you need right away, often at a price that’s hard to beat.

While this may seem like a harmless practice, there are a few concerns to be aware of when it comes to popping out for a few supplies:


A lot of retail shopping takes place in stores known for their low price – dollar stores and Wal-Mart in particular. The concern here is with the quality of the products you’re getting.  At best, you might be faced with having to replace poor-quality items sooner rather than later.  At worst, you could be using items (toys or kitchen supplies, for example) that are not from reliable manufacturers, and could carry some health-related risks.


People in our sector do good work, and it’s often true that the work we do needs to occur in a physical space (centres, offices, camps, etc). Time away from that space usually means time away from the work and the people that need us. Even if staff aren’t required to be in a specific place, time spent shopping is likely not part of the job or the mission of the organization; it’s an unnecessary distraction from our core work.


In-store shopping usually means payment via a corporate or personal credit card or by petty cash. We’ll deal with the various methods of payment in different post, but suffice to say that there are significant advantages to ordering on account, instead of processing a personal expense claim. Ordering on account usually allows for a better capture of data so you can keep track of where your money was spent.

Total Cost.

These are just three of the reasons why many best practice organizations opt for delivery of supplies over retail shopping. They all speak to an overarching best practice that you’ve probably heard us speak to before: the notion of Total Cost. You may be encouraged by your ability to save a few dollars at the local discount store, but what is it costing you in terms of lost quality, risk and lost/misallocated staff time? Once you take a total cost approach, you might reconsider the true value of that shopping trip.
As you prepare for the activities of the fall and start to plan buying the necessary supplies to make magic happen, consider using commercial-quality suppliers (like Staples Professional, our partners on the ONN Office Supplies program) for as many of your materials as possible. If you have any questions or require further information, please contact our team at the ONN Purchasing Program: [email protected]. Happy shopping!

About the ONN Purchasing Program

The ONN Purchasing Program is a partnership between ONN and our purchasing experts at Round Table Procurement Services (RTPS). This program was created to provide nonprofits with strategies, tools, and programs to help organizations save time and money, and to help simplify their buying decisions, while exploring opportunities for group savings.

August 24, 2017 at 11:14 am
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