University adds Amazon to cyBUY suppliers list

The university's electronic purchasing program, cyBUY, added Amazon to its list of marketplace suppliers. Iowa State's Amazon Business Prime account activated Nov. 1, and since then, about 100 frequent campus users have been added to the account as part of a measured rollout.

Departments may purchase supplies or equipment from Amazon when the 40-plus suppliers currently in cyBUY either don't offer an item or list a higher price on it. Procurement services director Cory Harms said he anticipates frequent use of the Amazon account for one-of-a-kind purchases -- for example, an adult-size tricycle that generates energy in a research project or the dinosaur costumes worn for the marching band's "Jurassic Park" football halftime performance last fall.


Procurement services staff lead a cyBUY Amazon Business Prime training and registration session every week; register via Learn@ISU.

"For items like office and computer supplies and scientific items, we still encourage people to look at our other contracts because they were competitively bid and we want to be fair to those suppliers," Harms said. "Amazon is not always the lowest-cost option for things we've already contracted for, but it is a great option for those nontraditional items the university typically wouldn't have a contract for."

President Wendy Wintersteen applauded procurement services' decision to add Amazon to cyBUY's supplier list. She said ease of purchasing equipment and supplies is an issue that emerged in process improvement discussions during the first year of her presidency.

"I am so pleased with this addition to our electronic purchasing options because many of our faculty and staff suggested it," Wintersteen said. "It's a great example of a change -- accomplished collaboratively -- that will help boost the administrative efficiency in our research and teaching missions."

So long, preapproval

In the past, when departments shopped with Amazon, they received preapproval for their purchases from cyBUY coordinator Ella Wichers and made purchases with the spending limit ($4,900) of an ISU purchasing card.

Harms said user-friendly features of the ISU Amazon Business Prime account are:

  • Preapproval no longer needed
  • cyBUY's higher purchasing limit of $50,000
  • Automatic tax exemption on purchases; no need for special forms
  • Free two-day delivery
  • No need to use an ISU purchasing card (payment method is preconfigured in ISU's account)
  • No need to use a personal Amazon account for work purchases
  • Phone access to Amazon's business customer service team
  • Additional business discounts may be available on specific products

Departments need to set up an Amazon account the first time they use Business Prime via cyBUY. For some, this process may include deactivating an existing account since Amazon permits one account per email address. Department buyers are asked to attend a campus training session, "cyBUY Amazon Business Training," that includes a 20-minute presentation, assistance setting up an account and access to the Amazon catalog. Procurement services staff also share strategies and lessons learned from initial subscribers on topics such as returns, billing address and documentation in lieu of a packing slip. One to two sessions each week are scheduled this spring; register via Learn@ISU (catalog keyword: cyBUY).

Two years in the making

Harms said his staff studied adding Amazon as a cyBUY supplier for more than two years, and ISU is one of the first schools in the Big 12 Conference to try it. In spring 2017, the department asked a CyBiz Lab student team in the Ivy College of Business to do a broad assessment of the cyBUY program, including functionality and customer satisfaction. Harms said one outcome of the team's work was high interest in a universitywide Amazon account. Independently, Elizabeth Sukup, program coordinator in the president's office, submitted to (at the time) the interim senior vice president for university services a white paper that favorably compared Amazon with other suppliers. Both influenced his department's decision, he said.

Harms said one of his initial reservations about Amazon was whether Iowa State has any leverage if issues arise with sale transactions. With Amazon's high daily sales volume and its use of third-party sellers, he said Iowa State's recourse sometimes is limited.

"When you're spending federal or state money, you want to be very, very careful with it," Harms said.

Iowa State joined an existing contract between Amazon and U.S. Communities, a national purchasing cooperative of nonprofits. Questions about using Amazon through cyBUY may be directed to cyBUY's help desk (email or phone 294-8577).