Big Box Watch: Florida Office Depot Investigation Update

As many of you may or may not know, Office Depot has been under investigation since last year for allegedly using bait-and-switch tactics in their dealings with state and local government contracts. The investigation is based upon the accusation that Office Depot would offer a low price during their initial contract bid, and end up selling high-priced alternatives when it came time to deliver. There are also accusation of over-billing and general misconduct. Georgia, California, Nebraska, Florida and North Carolina have all launched independent investigations, with some states canceling contracts state-wide until a decision is reached.

Today, officials in Tampa made the following announcement in regards to their internal audit, courtesy of the Palm Beach Post:

An audit of Hillsborough County’s office supply purchases from Office Depot has found little evidence of overbilling.A review of more than 15,000 county transactions with Office Depot during the past several months found few instances in which the county was overbilled for items ranging from staplers to paper clips, county audit director Dan Pohto told county commissioners.

Commissioners declined to pursue further investigation of the contract. Pohto’s office was asked to review the contract after news reports in several states raised questions about whether Office Depot was overbilling its government clients.

This strikes me as more than a little odd. The state is calling off its investigation because they “only” found “a few” instances of overbilling? To me it would seem that once is enough to make me question my dealings with a company, and “a few” would certainly be a few too many. Fool me once, shame on you, and so on.

Regardless, it’s an interesting look into the mindset of the big-box office supply retailer. With an online office supply company,  manufacturers are able to set the lowest price they can to give the most value to the consumer, and the retailer is able to pass the savings on by keeping overhead low and back-stock at a minimum, as well as not having to worry about the logistics of renting and running storefronts and so on.

The big-box retailer, on the other hand, is almost by necessity focused solely on the bottom line. If profits drop, they have a board of directors, investors, managers and CEOs to answer to. They need to squeeze all the money out of the customer that they can, and it’s no real surprise that some of them might resort to less-than-honest tactics to do so, especially in this economy. To be honest, I’m surprised this is the first we’ve heard of it, and hopefully the amount of digging going into this case will expose any other fraudulent practices that may be being perpetrated by other companies.

Have you been bamboozled by a big-box retailer? Have a customer service nightmare story you want to share? Email it to me at and I’ll be sure to post it here. In the meantime, do your research, get to know your vendor, and make your purchases from a responsible retailer who cares more about getting you the best value than getting your last nickel.