​3 Problems With Buying Retail Printers Instead of Commercial Printers 

Submitted by Karla Metzler on Wed, 02/01/2023 - 09:00

If you’re experiencing issues with your printer/copier, or are looking for a new one, you might feel overwhelmed by the choices and price differences out there. 

Conducting any kind of research process for a new printer will result in a lot of options at price ranges from under $100-to-$100,000.   

The simplest choice is to head to your nearest retail store, be it Staples, Office Depot or Walmart, and pick up a new printer on the cheap.  

Buying a cheap, retail printer, is single-handedly the biggest mistake we see consumers make and we don’t want you to go down that path, too. The financial consequences, believe it or not, could be substantial.  

As a printer/copier vendor for almost 40 years, we want to use our expertise to educate you with honest and accurate information so that you can get the right machine in place the first time around.  

For some, buying a retail printer will be your best choice. But for many others, purchasing a commercial printer is needed to accomplish your printing goals, and most importantly, save you money in the long run. 

In this article, we will be addressing the three most common problems with buying retail printers. We’ll also discuss when it would be appropriate to buy a printer from a retail store and when it would be more beneficial to buy a commercial printer. 

3 Common Issues with Buying Retail Printers 

The thought of buying a $300 printer from a retail giant may sound enticing because of the low upfront cost.  

However, the reasons below are why you could actually end up paying more in the long run by buying a retail printer as opposed to a machine that can handle your printer volume:     

1. Printer Cartridges Are Expensive When Buying Retail  

The first area of concern with buying a retail printer is that you will likely be paying a hefty price for your supplies, such as toner or ink cartridges.  

With a retail printer, you pay a hefty price to replace your toner when needed. This is because you have to purchase individual toner or ink as you need it.  

This can result in two negative outcomes: One, you might overpay for supplies by buying them in bulk, only to find out you didn’t need as much as you bought.  

Two, you might have to go out and purchase new printer cartridges so often that not only is it costing you money, but also time spent having to search, find and replace your supplies as they need it. 

Printer cartridges are not cheap; for instance, toner can cost you $113-$900 depending on the type of machine you have, how much you’re using the machine and what it is that your printing, which is called page coverage.  

For commercially bought printers, automatic toner shipments can be included as a part of your monthly payment under a leasing or service agreement with a vendor.   

If you need a printer for your business and plan on using it frequently, you will want to look at automatic toner shipments as a solution for your supplies. It can be a big money-saver and it ensures that you get the highest quality toner possible at the right time.  

Read our blog comparing automatic shipments of toner vs. buying your own to see which option would be right for you.  

2. Printer Service and Repairs  

The inescapable fact about retail printers from places like Wal-Mart, Amazon, or Office Depot is that they are designed for replacement, not repairs. 

Once they give out, you will struggle to find a place to repair the machine and will most likely have to buy a new one.  

This is because technicians typically don’t work on smaller machines, and even if you do find someone to fix your printer, printer service technicians can charge over $100 an hour--- which is basically the price of a new retail printer. 

A retail printer, especially if you plan to use it often, will only last so long before it starts experiencing service issues. This means you could be stuck in a cycle of buying retail printer after retail printer. 

Commercially bought printers from a vendor almost always include a maintenance plan that covers service repairs for around $12 a month. If you decide to buy a bigger, commercial printer, you will likely want to include a maintenance plan to protect against high service bills in the future. 

Retail printers also require the repurchasing of parts, such as a belt, drum unit or waste toners. These items, also known as consumable parts, add up month after month. With commercial printers, the parts plus onsite service technicians to install them, are included in the service offerings.  

Read our blog on the cost of printer service to learn more about how much you could be paying for repairs on your printer and the options you have to help lower it.  

3. Cost Per Page   

One thing most people aren’t aware of with retail printers is that you pay more per page than you would on a commercially bought printer.  

For black-and-white prints, you’ll pay around $0.035 per page and around $0.17 per page if printing in color. With a commercial printer, your price per page drops to around $0.017 for B&W prints and around $0.11 for color.   

These may seem like small numbers, but when you do the math of how much you print, it adds up faster than you think. Here are some graphics to display how much a retail MFP (multifunction printer), which prints, copies, scans and faxes, costs per month vs. a commercial MFP: 

Infographic explaining cost of retail MFP


Infographic on how much a commercial MFP will cost

These are average prices; you could be printing more or less than the example, which will have a direct impact on your cost. These examples also do not include the cost of the printer itself. In most cases, the commercial printer will cost more than the retail printer upfront. 

To offset the short-term cost of buying a more expensive commercial printer, many consumers opt to lease their machines, which breaks down the total cost of the printer into monthly payments. Leasing helps net you the machine you need to handle your print volume while not having to incur such a heavy upfront price. 

The factors listed above contribute to what is called your total cost of ownership. Due to supplies expenses, service, consumable parts and cost per page, the total cost of ownership ends up being higher on retail-bought printers.  

If you’re using a retail-bought printer and use it more than its recommended print volume, your total cost of ownership will be higher than that of a commercially bought printer.  

When Should You Buy a Retail Printer?  

While this article has highlighted the problems with buying retail printers, there are absolutely scenarios where a cheap retail printer is the best option for you. 

Here are a few circumstances where buying a printer from a retail store would make the most sense: 

  • If you need a printer to use only on an as-needed basis. 

  • If you need a personal printer for your home.  

  • If you need a printer for a quick project. 

If you meet the criteria above, then it would make sense to go with a retail printer instead of investing in a larger commercial printer.  

Here is an example of a retail printer, the HP OfficeJet Pro 8210, courtesy of HP: 

When Should You Buy a Commercial Printer? 

Now that you’ve seen who would be a fit for a retail printer, let’s go over the scenarios where purchasing a commercial printer would be the better choice: 

  • If you frequently need to use a printer for work. 

  • If you need a larger machine to handle a high print volume. 

  • If you require features or accessories that are only available on commercial printers, such as print finishers (automatic stapling or hole punching).  

If you fall into one of these categories, a commercial printer would be your best bet to satisfy your printing needs.  

To see further differences between buying a printer from a retail store and a commercial printer from a vendor, read our blog comparing us here at STPT vs. Office Depot.  

Here is a look at the Xerox VersaLink C7130, a commercial printer, courtesy of Xerox: 

Specifications for VersaLink C7100 Color MFPs - Xerox

Which Type of Printer Should You Buy? 

Here’s the truth about retail printers: They are inexpensive to buy but costly to maintain. 

This point must be reiterated because the most tempting thing to do when you need a new printer is to go to your local retail giant and buy the cheapest one available.  

But as you can see from this article, the total cost of owning a retail printer can exceed the upfront and total cost of ownership of a commercial printer if you don’t meet the criteria for a cheaper retail machine. 

Our goal as a forward-thinking print vendor is to make your printers the least of your worries, no matter if you need a small retail printer or a commercial MFP. We’ve got resources for you, no matter what your printing needs might be. 

If you need a retail printer, check out our blog discussing the best printers when buying on a budget. It will give you some cheaper options from different brands to sort through and give you a better feel for what’s out there.

If you need a commercial printer, check out our “Top 3 MFPs” article to see some of the options you have if you’re needing a machine to handle a consistent print volume.  

And if you don’t know where to begin when considering what to look for in a new machine, download your free copy of Our Guide to Purchasing or Leasing a Printer for Your Business to serve as your resource as you look to take the next step to get the right office printing equipment.