Service Matters (and a case study in poor Customer Relations)


An update before I rant: I added about 20 shots to my online photo gallery from the Ignatieff shoot this past Monday. This puts the total at 28. I think there are a few more keepers that I’ll provide his office via disc, but the total won’t top 50. I’m satisfied with what I ended up with.

Despite that recent event, I’ve been struggling with things to write about. Nothing has gotten me worked up of late. Well, for better or worse, I was provided plenty of ammo this past Thursday afternoon.

This post is about The Camera Store (hereafter called TCS, as it’s known, and no, I’m not going to provide a link) – a local juggernaut retailer in town, who professes to have everything a photographer could want, at prices that couldn’t be beat. Their mandate and prevalence in the local photographic community has earned them a great customer base and solid reputation amongst the few photographers I know in Calgary.

Many of you know that I am a very engaged consumer and very brand-loyal. I’m proud of that. I mean, why not? Companies these days work hard to provide a consistent product and let their customers do much of their advertising for them. It’s a good formula. I take it a bit farther and do a lot of homework on products I want, and I pay attention to the sincerity and quality of the places I buy from. I’ll even spend extra to buy something from a certain store if I think there’s value, even if someone else has it for less. While I go out of my way to seek certain brands and stores, there is a growing list of brands and stores that will never see my money. As of Thursday, I am adding TCS to that list. Here’s why:

After leaving work Thursday afternoon, I headed to TCS to purchase a flash. As mentioned in my last post, I decided that a flash would be very important for future indoor projects or ideas that I come up with. I didn’t really want to buy one right away, but I found out from another retailer in town that Canon was going to be raising its prices soon, apparently 10-20% across the board.

TCS’s price on the flash was $65 more than Robinson’s Camera – a significantly lesser-known store in Calgary, and $35 more than one of their biggest competitors, Vistek. Now, as per their price-matching guarantee, I expected TCS to beat both. When I arrived, however, the sales associate asked the manager (Dan is his name), who informed me in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t beat either store’s price because they had “old stock” while TCS had “stock that just came in that morning” which reflected the price increase. I mentioned to them that it was the same flash, new stock or old. He said it didn’t matter. I said, “well, $60 is $60 and while I’d love to give you my business…” Dan retorted, “we aren’t going to sell you a $500 flash to make $2 on it.” He didn’t really need to say that – I got the message when they said they wouldn’t match the other prices – and needless to say it raised my ire.

As I backed away from the counter, I thought to myself, I’ve spent about 10 times that in his store in the past few months, and while they weren’t going to make much on that specific purchase, they’re guaranteed to lose a lot more than $2 when I go buy lenses and other gear somewhere else. Besides, what about their price-matching policy – does it depend on whether or not they feel like it? Clearly, Dan is not a big picture thinker, and previous experiences lead me to believe that neither is his company.

Fact is, TCS has been providing me mediocre or otherwise bad service since my excitement about photography escalated back in October. Calls into their store to see if they had this or that in stock were consistently met with, “I dunno,” and “we don’t know how long it will take to come in.” When I ordered a lens from them in December, they “forgot” to call me until after Canon’s rebate program expired, despite the fact that I saw the lens I ordered in their store in the interim (I’d decided to buy something else, anyway). When I was finally called in early January, they said, “no, we just got it in, what you saw was spoken for by another customer.” Hmmm… I didn’t think they put pre-orders in the glass cabinet with all their other in-stock items, but who am I to second guess.

When I finally bought my Canon 5D mark II from them in January, I had been called and told that price increases were imminent, so I’d “better buy it right away because prices are going up tomorrow.” Well, prices never went up – in fact they actually dropped the price on my camera by about $20 last week. Hmmm… I guess Canon gave them bad information.

Later in January, I wanted to buy a polarizing lens filter before my wife and I went to Phoenix, and visited their store a full six weeks before our trip. They were sold out of the one I wanted. “Fine,” I said, “order one for me. How long will it take?” “Oh,” the associate said, “they never take more than a month, max.” “Will I get it before my trip?” I asked. “Oh, definitely.” Well, three days before we left, and after several calls, I finally gave up and bought a different filter that I didn’t really want from another store, with no opportunity for a refund.

Thursday was the last straw. As I pulled into their parking lot on Thursday afternoon, I wondered how this visit might go wrong.

To my delight, however, the recent service I’ve received at those two other Calgary retailers, Robinson’s and Vistek, has been great. Robinson’s actually has really low prices – beating TCS and Vistek handily on many items (I got a widely-unavailable second battery for my camera for $90, while TCS and Vistek both list theirs as out of stock, but sold for $112 and $125 respectively). Vistek says they’ll beat their competitors as long as they aren’t sale prices. No problem! And Vistek rented me a Canon 50mm F1.2 L for three and a half days for $70, which is a great rate, and the lens was absolutely brand new.

Through the power of digital media and social networking, I’m proud to say to anyone who will listen, that TCS has what amounts to the most consistent bad service of any store I’ve ever shopped at. They are never going to see another dime from me. On the flip side, I would highly recommend Robinson’s Camera and Vistek to my friends and peers (hey, don’t forget, Alberta doesn’t have sales tax, so if you’re in the market for a 70-200mm F2.8 IS L, you might think about buying it here).

Photography is a benchmark industry in terms of tech-savvy consumers who utilize user-based communities, word of mouth and third-party endorsement to make their purchasing decisions. Camera consumers are overtly active in communicating what they love and hate with each other, and so it isn’t to TCS’s advantage to fail so spectacularly in customer relations. I don’t walk on water or anything and I’m sure they have much bigger clients, but the fact that I’m so worked up about this means they should take a much harder look at how they do business, lest anyone take my recommendations to heart. The power of word-of-mouth is extraordinary in this industry, and they ought to be looking out for each of their customers a little more than they are.

Cheers everyone, thanks for listening. Cleansing complete.

About the author cdub

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  1. Hey, what I want to know is the relation between the photo you posted and the experience you had. I am guessing bars would have something to do with it?

    Hot tip on the stores, sounds like Robinsons and Vistek are good stuff. We are indeed in the market for a 70-200mm F2.8 IS so that is valuable information.


  2. re: the photo, well, it’s a photo I’ve been wanting to share for some time. I really like this photo and it’s my first experiment with abstract. I think this could look super blown up large. It is vague enough to compliment this post, and, having chosen it, I like how it infers a sense of purgatory – where I’ve decided TCS belongs in my life, along with select other places and things that haven’t impressed me.

    Yes, it was you I was thinking of when I mentioned saving tax on a lens… If you ever want us to pick one up for you, provided we’re on our way out there or know someone who is (my folks for example), or if you’re headed out this way, it’s worth thinking about. You’d save about $175.


  3. How much is the 70-200IS f2.8 now? Best deal?


    1. up to you to find out- that’s why the links are there.


  4. […] customer service failures during the year – enough to earn my ire and retort and resulted in blog posts. And The Camera Store and Arpi’s still suck big time and haven’t seen a dime from […]


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