I worked at Staples for about half of last year. In that time, I learned quite a bit about the mass retail world. One of the many tidbits of information I picked up was the answer to the most common question I received.
Every customer:Why don't any of the printers come with USB cables if they're required to use the printer?
I thought it was an excellent question. The printer I bought in 1994 came with a parallel cable. So did the one I bought in 1998. Parallel cables are much more expensive to produce than USB cables. Now, most printers are USB-only and don't come with cables. Are the manufacturers really that cheap? Well, I'm not sure of the cause of the status quo, but it's definitely a poor state for consumers.
Now that printers don't come with cables, retailers are in an excellent position to exploit customers. People are attracted to the low advertised prices of the printers. Once they decide on one, the sales associates are trained to helpfully inform them that they'll need a cable as well, and hand them a 6-foot USB cable. Well, that's polite. Except that the 6-foot USB cable costs $20.
Wait a minute. Cables at retail have never been cheap, but $20 for a 6-foot cable with 5 wires inside of it? They were never this expensive. Last winter, I asked a Micro Center employee why they stopped offering their large bins of unbranded 6-foot USB cables for $1 each. He said, "The manufacturer's prices went up." I know we're in bad economic times, but can the costs of manufacturing a rubber and metal cable increase by 2000% in one year?
I went back to Staples and checked the inventory system for the wholesale prices of these $20 cables. $2. What? That had to be a mistake. My manager told me that they sometimes have special deals and the prices get thrown off. So I checked every week for the next 2 months. The price did fluctuate, but it never went above $4.
My question was finally answered.
I'm not sure whether the retailers convinced the manufacturers to stop bundling cables, or whether the retailers just jumped on an excellent opportunity when they saw the manufacturers trying to cut costs. Either way, consumers lose.
And certainly don't let the retail idiots convince you that the gold-plated cables are better for you. They're certainly better for the retailers, since they get $30 for a cable that cost them $6. But your printer won't print any more quickly, it won't give you better print quality, and it certainly won't give you more "connectivity."
The solution? Never buy cables at retail. Get them at small, independent stores with large bins of them for $1. When Micro Center offered these two years ago, I bought 10 of them without even questioning it, and I'm sure glad I did now. If you can't find them locally, Newegg has them for around $5 after shipping. Whatever you do, don't pay more than $5 for a simple USB cable.