Thursday, April 11, 2013

Final Days for Brick and Mortar Camera Stores? Are These Store Owners Crazy?

Unknown, by Reed A. George
I love walking into a camera store, a real one, with people in it, as much as anyone. But, I'm afraid they're about to go the way of bookstores here in the USA.
It seems the latest problem is "showrooming," which means that customers come in and handle and test cameras and lenses, only to leave and order theirs online for a lower price. In the US, that usually means no sales tax, either.
Even worse for store owners, they sometimes buy a product, use it for a weekend shoot, then return it. It is now no longer eligible for sale as "new," and the store owner eats the loss.
I read an article about an Australian camera store that is reacting to this by charging admission - what??? No, it's not April Fool's Day any more. They charge customers $5 to come in. The charge is applicable to a purchase, but if you don't buy anything, you forfeit the entry fee.
(Click Here) to read about it on
So, how else can a camera store react to these challenges? I say take the higher road - provide such great customer service that people are willing to pay a little more to keep your store open. Yes, I'm sure that's easier said than done. But, if you're going to stay in this business, you have to offer something of real value to the customer, something they can't get online.
I remember hanging out at the camera store, comparing notes, debating equipment choices, maybe even meeting for a photo walk or class. I remember trusting the guys behind the counter to really know something about photography.
My own local camera store is more like the one in Australia. Though they do have some real resident expertise, I've tried multiple times to engage them. They're more interested in a sale than a discussion. In fact, they've instituted a 20% (!) restocking fee for returned equipment, to respond to the weekend use-and-returners. That is insane, in my humble opinion.
I would be more than willing to pay at least the differential of the sales tax for a more engaging relationship. As it is, there's no freaking way I'm going to pay more, lose the free return opportunity (which I use when necessary, no more than that), and put up with attitude!
I'm sure the pressure to make sales in today's world is excruciating for these small business owners. However, if there aren't better ways to deal with it, I'm afraid their days are numbered. As it is today, I wouldn't use my local store even if they did offer free returns like the rest of the world. The attitude is simply a deal breaker for me.
Amazon has never given me attitude. Neither has B&H, Adorama, or KEH.
Rant over.