If your company had a contract with an office supply chain that allowed you to order a wide range of business supplies—from paper towels to document shredders—at only a penny, would you order stuff by the truckload? That's what happened to Staples after it secured a contract with the state of New York.
Various state offices ordered stuff they didn't need and couldn't store, simply because it was so dang cheap. One worker—who doesn't mind her name being used—bought four shredders at a penny apiece, gave one to each of her three children, and kept the last one for herself. Staples put a stop to the whole thing a few months into the agreement. By that point, it had delivered over $22 million in penny-sale goods, for which it received just over $9,000.
Understandably, Staples felt that its penny-item category had been misused. A state official, on the other hand, said it never would have agreed to any restrictions on the purchases, and believes that Staples has violated the terms of its contract.
Why did Staples wait until it had lost $22 million before suspending the sale? Where was its army of lawyers while that agreement was being drawn up? Why would the State of New York think (or at least assert) that nothing out of the ordinary had occurred?
Obviously, Staples executed a bad deal; it left a loophole wide enough for a small fleet of semis to drive through. But what about people who ordered all that crap? Many of them didn't seem to care about the consequences—for the people at Staples who would undoubtedly lose their jobs, for their co-workers who would have to navigate huge piles of stuff for which there was no storage, or even for themselves. I would think a manager would question both the common sense and integrity of a person who would order thousands of penny items they didn't need, couldn't use, and couldn't store, but maybe that's because I've never had a government job.
Nobody appears to have done anything illegal—but shouldn't we be concerned about more than just whether we can get away with something?