Purchasing Tip and Tricks

Thursday, Oct 19, 2017   Microbial Sciences 3rd floor atrium  11:00 am – 12:00 pm

including lab managers and Janet Bresnahan & Sarah Martin (Purchasing)

UW_Madison Purchasing Services Directory

Purchasing Tip and Tricks

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Invoices and Expense Tracking
1. Reconcile every purchase with a receipt or invoice right away.
2. Use one folder in a shared location for invoices.
3. Use a Google Docs spreadsheet to track expenses for the whole lab.
4. Use the Pre-Allocation Tool (PAT) to adjust MDS purchases. This tool saves time as
you only have to keep track of one MDS number.

1. Maintain files and records especially for equipment.
2. Use Excel spreadsheet by project, fund or account
3. Use Quartzy for purchasing database software for sciences. It is a free service, has an
inventory function and an Excel export feature. https://www.quartzy.com/
4. Shred paper files after 7 years (current fiscal year and past 6 years.

Hidden Expenses
1. Keep track of cylinder rentals.
2. Keep track of shipping expenses. Last minute purchases can be very expensive.

Other Valuable Tips
1. Establish a good relationship with vendors. They can save you a lot of money!!!
2. Make a habit of always checking the fund end date to avoid purchases after the


Questions and discussion topics

UW-Purchasing Services – Questions and Responses

Why are certain Staples products blocked on Shop@UW?

Staples was awarded the contract based on office supplies.  Blocked items are either covered by another contract, or it’s a mistake.  Process to transition to check-out was not seamless – e.g. MRO was blocked as a category (janitorial supplies like Clorox) by Stables SKU.  If a product was accidentally blocked, can call Business Services to get product unblocked, usually within 24 hours.


How can Shop@UW products be filtered by preferred products (stars)? 

Currently they cannot be filtered in this way.  It is a technical limitation of the software.


Will Amazon ever be on Shop@UW?

No, probably the UW and Amazon will never be able to come to agreement on terms. But it’s probably one of the top 10 vendors, and the UW has no official relationship with them.  There’s no way to dispute transactions or work with them.  And products are often cheaper on Amazon.  But there are administrative costs to using P-card, which don’t accrue back to the department, but does save the university money.  Labs are encouraged to contact Janet Bresnahan for common products that are cheaper on Amazon – for example, wipes for decontamination.  Then she can try to negotiate a better price with our vendors.  It is clear that lots of people are using Amazon business accounts for free shipping, tracking, and delivery times that are more convenient than MDS delivery services.


Why are quoted prices from vendors often better than contract prices?

Janet Bresnahan says that this is often true for equipment.  If folks go with cash in hand, Fisher and other vendors will almost always give a better price than the contract.  Researchers ask for quotes for anything used commonly, and for anything that is expensive, even for one-time purchase.  Puchasing needs information about when this is happening, and maybe they can negotiate better.


How is the $5,000 limit on P-cards defined?  Over what time frame? 

This is complex.  The maximum allowable single-purchase limit is $5,000.  But this can’t be a bunch of smaller items that is still above the limit.  Basically, we are looking for practices that appear to be outside the guidelines.  Some departments also have their own limits and requirements: for example, L&S has stricter rules – like $5,000 per vendor per year.  Other units have rules that $5,000 per project per vendor per month.  Some labs use a limit of no more than $5,000 in all purchases to any single vendor in a 3-month period.  Others say that they use 1-year as the time frame.  Group agreed that more clarification on this rule would be helpful.


Purchasing Sarah Martin:  Hardest question to answer.  There is no time frame.  We’re looking for intent.  If you are using a non-contract vendor, multiple purchases over a few months will be suspicious.  Even consumable purchases over time should become predictable.  There are different interpretations of this rule.  Multiple purchases over time is OK with a contract vendor.

>> But this limit introduces significant constraints and confusion for lab managers.  Blanket orders can take months to implement, and more work when funding sources change.


There is confusion about how to know whether a product is covered by a vendor contract.

There are many ways to search for contracts, Janet outlined a complex process by which a researcher can explore whether products are covered.  Researchers recognize that this is cumbersome – why can’t this be in Shop@UW?


MDS does not have good customer service – lost deliveries, no tracking, no contact, no updates, misdeliveries are  common, deliveries to unused doors late in day, etc.  Tracking shipments is important!


Suggestions from labs

No way to easily compare prices.  Diane suggests – maybe model of “Inter-mall” from Federal Government?


Personal relationships with vendors and salespeople is key to getting good pricing.  Request free samples, equipment loans, and prices to match funding – don’t just accept their first offer.  Many reported that the contract price was irrelevant to their own negotiations.


The Post-Allocation Tool (PAT) can be used to transfer funds after purchases.  This allows the manager to make one big purchase and then divide up to multiple funding sources, which can save with shipping on a big purchase.


Check for cylinder rentals – this is a hidden cost that can sneak up on you. Track cylinders via “Snapshot” or “Fast” to see expenses on all accounts – search by part number for each cylinder.

Note: FAST may be a departmental tool? 


Share Google forms, Excel sheets, Access databases to capture purchasing.


Restrict end-of funding purchases to 1-month before end.

Reference Documents

UW_Madison Purchasing Services Directory


Lab Management Purchasing Tips and Tricks

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