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I bought a $70 printer to return things I bought online during the pandemic — and it was my best decision yet

  • Online shopping surged during the pandemic, and it made me realize the value of printers. 
  • Some sites don’t make it easy to return things, and many stores stopped accepting in-person returns. 
  • I bought one off Amazon and I wish I’d done it sooner.

I never thought I’d own a printer. Then the pandemic hit.

In my mind, it was a dusty household staple that my parents owned when I was a kid. As a 20-something living in the digital age, what need did I have for physical copies of anything?

But after a year shut inside my apartment, which followed years of already slowly growing addicted to shopping online, I got fed up. The friction involved in returning something I ordered online was too much — especially when some stores stopped accepting in-person returns for digital orders. 

How many times have you lazily put off printing a return label, only for the window to close, leaving you with something that doesn’t fit and your wasted money in the retailer’s pockets? Be honest.

So I pulled the plug, and I bought a $70 HP DeskJet from Amazon, which came with ink cartridges, and a package of copy paper. 

It’s made me feel like I can rule the world, or at least lets me more easily get my money back on something I don’t want.

6 out of 8 colleagues told me they didn’t have a printer

a pile of packages is seen in the corner

I know I’m not the only one with a pile of online orders sitting in the corner…

Katie Canales/Insider


As a quick test, I asked my teammates on

Slack
if they owned a printer. Six people said they didn’t, and two people said they did.

Obviously, owning a printer isn’t a novelty — plenty of people do. In 2019, 62% of American households had one in fact, according to Deloitte.

But I’m likely not the only one who was driven to buy one during the pandemic when stores and offices closed and people flocked in droves to shopping online.

As Bloomberg’s Tara Lachapelle noted in a mid-2020 column about a printer comeback, the surge in online shopping “brought with it the inconvenience of needing to make returns and print shipping labels. That’s something office workers may have tended to do — shh! for I must whisper this part — at the office.”

Deloitte estimated that the home printer market would surge 15% in 2020 to $29 billion. I took a bite out of that market last month when I bought my printer.

I can print labels from my iPhone. It’s so easy.

a printer sits on a desk

Easy peezy.

Katie Canales/Insider


My HP DeskJet is

Bluetooth
-enabled, meaning I can print things wirelessly from my iPhone. The HP Smart app helped me easily set everything up and showed me how to insert the ink cartridges. 

I buy most things on the internet: shoes, clothes, skincare products. And since I moved recently, I’m also buying bath mats, shower curtains, sheets, and other household items. Not everything looks good or turns out to be what I wanted.

Take, for example, a blue-green shower curtain I bought from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. It didn’t make the cut, so I downloaded the return label on my iPhone and selected HP Smart as my printing option.

Then, with my handy dandy packaging tape dispenser in hand, I attached the label to the package and taped it shut.

a roll of tape is shown next to a package

Don’t judge my taping job…

Katie Canales/Insider


I stack the packages by the door and run them to UPS, FedEx, or USPS whenever I’m headed out.

It’s worth noting that some retailers won’t make you return items but will still give you your refund — Amazon has done this to me a couple of times in the past. And also, some — including Amazon — won’t require you to print a return label. They’ll simply ask you to take it to a carrier that will handle that for you (though sometimes for a fee).

But some retailers won’t let you return certain items in-store, only online.

So at the end of the day, it’s nice to have the printer in the apartment, where I can print the label and affix it to the package in one go.

The nostalgia doesn’t hurt either.

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