Ritz Camera Or Scamera? An Interview With A Former Employee

Before you shop at Ritz Camera, you’ll want to read inside about what a disgruntled ex employee terms:

• The Classes Scam
• The Return Scam and
• The Price-Match Scam.


benpopken: Tell me about the scams you mentioned

cyclops: The classes were originally a Chuck Wolf idea. All that was good in the company left when he did. When we bought wolf camera in early 2000 (i think) we also took on the classes. I even heard David Ritz say he wanted it to be the factor that separated us from our competitors. When I first became a teacher, we had projection screens. We had pamphlets to give to every person taking the course. The classes consisted of about 20 customers. Since chuck wolf has left, the district managers have taken more control of the classes. The classes are now pretty much designed to set up new sales.

If I’m teaching a class about wildlife photography, most of our customers will buy a nice zoom lens in the future. But i can’t just recommend any zoom lens, or even mention several, for that matter. You HAVE to recommend the QUANTARAY 55-200mm zoom lens, because it’s “optimized for digital.” Quantaray is very much in bed with ritz camera, almost totally exclusively. The company is based in our warehouse. Now, don’t get me wrong i like selling Quantaray stuff, I’d make $10 if you bought the lens. But the fact is that Ritz doesn’t really allow me to talk to you about name brand equipment, such as Nikon or Canon.

benpopken: Is that the extent of the scam?

cyclops: Well, it’s used as a major selling point when buying a camera that you get to take all of our classes for free. There are a total of 7. During the sale the associate will tout the classes as “not only will you get a great deal from us, but we’ll teach you how to use your camera.” But if you look at what most stores usually only offer 2 of the 7 per month, and classes are booked up to 2 months in advance. I stopped teaching in protest, because the company started giving us mandates on what products to offer. Like if we mentioned filters, we were directed to offer Quantaray filters. Same with flashes, bags, tripods… We were also encouraged to offer equipment throughout the class, not just introduce it. It used to be, “this is an add on flash for your camera, it’s good for …..” But now it’s “here is an add on flash by Quantaray for your camera, it’s easy to use, it’ll make your pictures better and it only costs $99.” They turned a great established program into another sale.

benpopken: What percentage of people taking the class would you say ended up buying the products you mentioned?

cyclops: The classes now have between 30 to 40 people in them. After class, I’d say at least 25 buy something I’ve mentioned.

I left about the time when the regional trainer was giving people a hard time for not trying to sell more filters and tripods during training. At the meeting another instructor put the question out about sales versus instruction. After that meeting, 4 instructors quit teaching, including me. The sales are quite lucrative on it now, from what i understand. In the DC area, there are only 2 instructors teaching classes where there used to be 10. It’s not about teaching you to take better pictures. They give you one piece of information that you could easily find online, then try and sell you something to make your camera “better.” I would liken the classes now to those free bank seminars.

benpopken: Tell me about the return scam.

cyclops: The reality is that the ritz return policy is one of the most liberal policies of any company anywhere. You can buy practically any product from a store, and if it’s not broken, you can return it for full price. However, while the associate will tout this policy during the sale “in case you change your mind,” they frequently try and tack on fee’s and penalties for returns.

For example, “Well sir, I’m sorry you didn’t like the camera, I’ll be happy to return it for you, however I see that you have opened the batteries that came with the camera. I’m afraid I’m going to have to charge you $15 off the return for that.”

There is only one reason this is done: when you discount any product in the register, if the item had an automatic commission (say $5 when sold) then the item’s commission drops off. So if i sold you camera for $200, and i made $5, if you return it for $200 i lose $5. But if i reduce the return price to $199 or lower, i keep my $5. Additionally, I may refuse to return something on the grounds that it’s no longer sellable, but I will allow you to exchange it. Same thing if it’s outside of the return policy. The return policy is 10 days for digital items. If you come in on the 11th day, the nicer stores will take care of you, but many stores will allow an exchange only. This keeps them from loosing sales and commissions.

Again, the policy i have seen allows the customer to return practically anything at anytime in almost any condition. The trick is to call customer service if they don’t give you what you want right away. Ritz has no restocking fee’s for opened items, but they try very hard to stick it to customers from time to time. Even my employees did sometimes, just to keep their commissions. We were all rather poor,and $5 and $10 per sale means a lot to us. Bt if customers knew they could go over us and force us to take a full return without much effort, that would change quite a bit in the stores.

benpopken: What’s the price-match scam?

cyclops: The bottom line is that if you call 3 ritz cameras and ask them what the price match is you’ll get 3 different answers. The only consistent rule is that we don’t match online offers, and we only match “local competitors.” Local is a very ambiguous term, especially in the dc metro area.

benpopken: The influence of the evershifting swamp beneath your feet

cyclops: Because of this, there is a lot of grey in how to price match and what to price match. This is yet another tool employees use to sell to the customer. “Well, I know that bargain city has the camera for $50 less, but they’re 100 miles away and i can’t price match, it’s technically not local to us. but i’ll tell you what I’ll do, if you buy XXXX and XXXXX i’ll give you $40 off the camera.” That’s wrong, and they don’t have to do it. In my store, I fought this for the nice customers. Gor those spending quite a bit of money, we’d price match stuff from stores 300 and 500 miles away. I once price matched something from a small shop going out of business in Alabama. I was in Maryland at the time.

I’ve also seen people refuse to match a best buy coupon price, because best buy is based in michigan, and is not “local.” The price match is just another bs tool used to leverage against a customer, but if you call customer service for the match you should get it.

benpopken: Wow, they were doing it based on where the HQ is?

cyclops: Among other techniques, yes.

benpopken: That’s nuts.

cyclops: I saw that used once by a district manager when he refused to honor a customers best buy coupon, something i’d been doing for years. It was a lame excuse, but it worked.

benpopken: What would you tell someone thinking about shopping for a camera? Would you send them to Ritz?

cyclops: It depends. If you buy things online your best bet is to read a review at amazon, dpreview and cnet. then buy. I’d recommend B&H and adorama. If you’re unsure about buying online, and there’s a good chance you’ll want to return it, Buy from ritz

benpopken: Just make sure you call customer service if they try to cut down your return price.

cyclops: Or if you have any problems for that matter. Let them know you’ll call customer service if you don’t get what you want. If you don’t follow through, escalate! If you’re in a store and you’re not getting what you want, tell them you’ll call customer service. If they still don’t help you, call customer service. All employee’s are required to give you their first name and associate number when requested. In some states, it’s on their name badge.

benpopken: Escalation is always the key, most people don’t realize that.

cyclops: Ritz takes upset customers seriously, to a point. Rather than figure out what caused the problem, they’ll do anything they can to make it go away as fast as possible. Just give them whatever they want, so they’ll leave the store.

I tried to correct this while i was there. I’d rather reward a customers patience than their tantrum, but i’m afriad i’m in the minority on that issue. They feel it’s too combative and that customers when upset should just be given the keys to the store.

benpopken: There’s gotta be a balance

cyclops: There are other problems plaguing the company, but they aren’t of much concern to you. The photolabs are being seriously downsized, but that’s another issue.

— BEN POPKEN

PREVIOUSLY: 8 Confessions Of A Ritz Camera Sales Employee

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. mopar_man says:

    I couldn’t read that. Just too painful to read from line to line without any punctuation.

  2. Kornkob says:

    The classes ‘scam’ doesn’t seem like a scam at all. It’s about what one should expect from a company that sells stuff (especially when in bed with a particular manufacturer) and holds classes. I don’t see any problem with the classes program as described.


    The other 2 thngs are definately unethical behaviors and possibly illegal in some areas.

  3. Buran says:

    This is why I buy from B&H. Good service, online ordering so I never have to talk to someone from India (as I did when I had to call Adorama once … I’m hearing-impaired and it was a horror show due to the rep’s impossible-to-understand accent which isn’t their fault but still a problem), no bullshit, no upsells (the site does show recommended accessories for items on their catalog pages, but doesn’t push them on you; it’s nice to be able to quickly add the appropriate UV filter for a lens to an order, for example), and you get your order promptly.

    The only problem with them is that they take their religious principles a little TOO far and their COMPUTERS are programmed to not even take orders from Friday sundown to sometime Saturday, which seems a bit over-the-top to me (just send the employees home…?), and their seemingly random closings have hit me before when I need something at a specific time. And they seem to have rigged it with Adorama because if you try to go over to Adorama.com (never mind the Indian horror story above) you find that they’re closed too! Arrrgh.

  4. jeffj-nj says:

    I started to read it, but it got boring quickly. The whole thing is too long, and doesn’t even really strike me as that much of a scam. Recommending the products which benefit the company the most seems like something the students in the class – which is free, after all – should just be expecting anyway. So what if it’s just another sales tactic. It was free!

    And in regards to the return policy. Charging me extra if I opened the batteries? Well, duh. That also seems fair. So, I didn’t read any further.

  5. JKinNYC says:

    @Buran:
    They are extrememly orthodox Jews. Systems doing work for you is considered work to their sect and thats a no no from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and on holidays. You have to suck it up if you want to do business with B & H.

    They are the best in the business for what they do. It’s good to see that their principles are more important than their wallets.

  6. Buran says:

    @JKinNYC: I have no problem with religion but computers are just computers and have no religion.

    I don’t think those computers can pass the Turing test so they are not human and therefore have no religion.

    They get away with this because of the aforementioned collusion with their only major real competition.

    I’ve started buying increasing numbers of items from this kickass local shop down the street from my house.

  7. myrall says:

    Golly, the one time I dealt with Adorama, I got the most noo-yawk soundin’ fella I’d ever heard. It took a minute for my ears to adjust. Overall, the whole experience was a pleasant one.

  8. jeffj-nj says:

    Ooo. I see the article has been reformatted. Nice.

  9. j03m0mma says:

    I agree with KornKob. The 1st one isn’t really a scam. As far as the other items I wouldn’t consider them ‘company wide scams’ he’s just talking about individual sales people and you get that everywhere. I don’t consider those scams just dodgie sales people and mangers. Now if you called Customer Service and they did the exact same thing then yes it would be a scam

  10. elizaD says:

    @Buran Adorama is also owned/run by Orthodox Jews. I believe the owners are cousins of B+H owners or something. They’re not in cahoots together just because they have the same religious obligations.

    If it’s Shabbat or a Jewish holidy just go to Calumet or K+M.

  11. Justinh6 says:

    I’ve bought several open box cameras from Ritz’s online store.

    Never had a problem with them, and they were always a good deal.

    I would never buy a camera in a Ritz B&M store in the day and age of the internet.

  12. mopar_man says:

    Nobody has mentioned KEH yet? I’ll shop there before anywhere else but that’s just me. “BGN” grade equipment that’s nearly new for less than the price on Ebay? Yes please.

  13. stardeo says:

    Price match might be a scam, or a scam unique to Ritz/Wolf, but price match usually never works out.

    Best Buy (which is headquartered in Minnesota…) is just as fickle with its price match. It depends on the associate and the manager at that time. I was with a good friend who was trying to buy a Canon 20D, and the manager refused to price match to a store 70 miles away not because of distance, but because the price was too low! “I can only give you $100 dollars off,” is what he said.

  14. JKinNYC says:

    @Buran:

    It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are. If they believe it is against their faith, then it is. What possible benefit could they be getting from it?

  15. Elvisisdead says:

    Well, and to add, it’s their store. They can be closed for any reason that they want. You don’t have to shop there.

  16. Sukhoi says:

    B&H also has at the top of the website what days they will be closed. It’s not that hard to work around when you can’t order.

  17. Buran says:

    @JKinNYC: If you consider lost business a benefit, then I guess that’s one.

  18. Buran says:

    @Sukhoi: Emergencies aren’t exactly expectable.

  19. TedSez says:

    @Buran:

    Do you complain about all the businesses that “collude” with each other by closing on Christmas?

    If you believe that Orthodox Jews are “getting away” with something by operating according to their religious principles, then they’d probably rather not have you as a customer anyway.

  20. quail says:

    I took one of their video classes back in 1993 and a photo class in 1994. This was at the stores in Texas, about the time when Wolf and his partner split up their photo store empire, and long before Wolf swooped back in and bought them back up.

    The classes were great with thick 40 page hand outs, slides, and video tape. In our area they had one to two classes a month with about 40 people in the class. It was not a tool to upsale us beyond the use of a tripod. The class and the knowledgeable staff was one of the selling points for me to buy my equipment there.

    Sad that corporate America will ruin another decent chain by trying to squeeze every bit of profit out of it they can.

  21. endless says:

    I also used to work at a Wolf camera store.

    I agree on the classes being mostly about adding on sales. There was some useful information in them, not alot but a little.

    The price matching policy was really random.


    The stores I worked at I never saw any thing like the described return policy.

    What I did see was cameras returned and then resold as new.

    To be fair I did work at a low camera sales volume compared to some stores in my district, the sales men at those stores would have been much more proficient at said tactics.

  22. arachnophilia says:

    @buran:

    b+h says they don’t, but they will indeed take orders on shabat and jewish holidays. they just won’t get processed or shipped until it’s not a jewish holiday or shabat. i’m pretty certain i’ve done it at least once.

    anyways, @op,

    this is better than the last expose of ritz. it’s still stuff that the pro’s know — just stuff the average consumer probably does not and probably should. and it does answer my question about to what degree quantaray and ritz are in bed together.

    and a 55-200 for wildlife? i mean, i guess you can’t sell them on an $8000 lens like one of those 400mm f/2.8′s, but that’s kinda crappy. that’s one of my bigger beefs with ritz, they always try to push their off-brand crap.

  23. PackerX says:

    I used to work at Ritz as well. However, since our store did huge numbers in our district, we were able to get away with a lot more. By, “get away with,” I mean, “take care of the customers”. That being said, here are some comments on the article:

    -The classes. The classes are really just a sales pitch. While I don’t have familiarity with the “sell Quantaray” emphasis, I know that if you take the Compact Digital class, the entire thing is pretty much a half-hour long presentation of, “You should have bought an SLR.”

    -Quantaray. They’re practically a part of Ritz, and we were pushed to sell the stuff. As an employee, I was even told by my manager that the Quantaray lenses and Canon/Nikon lenses were made in the same factories, just labeled differently. The quality is exactly the same for a fraction of the price. This is obviously not true, but if the salesperson believes it, the customer will believe it.

    -I never experienced the return scam, but my store was very good at convincing people to do exchanges instead of refunds.

    -The price-match policy my store was this: we needed a published advertisement from the store (no website print-outs, we couldn’t call the store to verify, etc.) and the store had to have a location within 25 miles of us. At the time, the nearest Best Buy was 27 miles away, which got us out of a lot of price matching. I never matched a price in the two years that I worked there.

    Also, Ritz often offers some bonuses. With camcorders, there’s a tripod/bag set that was included with many camcorders, and they started to do the same with SLRs. If you got a price-match on a camera, you would not get the extras. No customer ever turned down the bonus pack to save $10.

  24. triple says:

    Ritz is a scam. I don’t give a crap about their return policies because I never go there to buy ANYTHING.

    They are consistently much higher priced than adorama/BH on lenses and equipment.

    On average, i’d say you can expect to pay about $200 extra on any given lens.

  25. triple says:

    I also noticed they’re bundling D200s with Quantaray 18-200s.. this is confusing to an uninformed consumer, because nikon also sells a D200/NIKON 18-200 package – and the nikon 18-200 is a far superior lens in every single aspect.

  26. Her Grace says:

    This thread has certainly been helpful. I’m making my first digital camera purchase, and haven’t know which shops to trust and which to look out for, besides a google search to see if there were any angry websites about them. It’s given me plenty of good options, if nothing else, via the comments.

  27. Nachoman says:

    Here are two more scams that Ritz Camera are behind. The first is the free printer scam. What they do is trumpet a free printer with the purchase of a camera. That way we get our numbers up. We hear about our numbers all of the time. What they tell us on the other hand is to talk badly about printing photos at home. That it will cost more to print at home (with electricity and time) at that photos printed at home won’t last as long compared to photos we print at the store. So we should push the free printer but talk badly about printing at home.

    The second scam is just illegal, it is bait and switch. What they do it to advertise a product cheap then either never ship them or ship too few of them. If a customer questions that we just give them the customer service number. We at the store will try to sell them another camera that we have in stock. An advertisement will mention a product that is of low cost, which we either don’t have or have few of; it’s our job to sell something else. If a customer wants the sale price our District Manager would not allow it. As the Store Manager, I would do whatever I could to get the product in because it was our fault that the product was not at the store. During Christmas, we did have a number of the products listed in the ads and know I bet many stores don’t have the products listed in their catalog, they will either push you to another store or push you to order through Ritz Express and you will have to wait, but if you need it quickly, your out of luck.

    You can see how they really operate. All they care about is the bottom line and not about customer service, they talk about customers, but they really don’t care about them.

  28. rowrtay says:

    as a store manager of a ritz/wolf camera…

    we are a company which is different than other box stores out there. we do offer free photo classes with the purchase of any camera and a free photo printer with the purchase of any digital camera. in addition we offer a local price match against in stock competitors.

    with our price matching we have to be selective (some illegitimate companies sell cameras below cost without ever shipping the correctly advertised camera to the customer). in my area we match any advertised price or in stock price though without any freebies on our part. that is if a competitor has a camera for $500 and a memmory card for $50 packaged together for $525, and we have the camera for $500 and a different memory card for $100, we will not match the price. sadly our comparisons have to be local apple to apple comparisons.

    we do offer free photo printers with the purchase of any digital camera after rebates. there are going to be multiple listed reasons for this:

    1) we make money doing business.
    2) people print less pictures from their digital cameras than what they did from film.
    3) less film = less business
    4) if we get people to get into the habit of printing their pictures on a regular basis we do more business
    5) we need to get people into habit of printing digital photos
    6) let’s encourage people to make photos on regular basis

    that’s all folks

    our big business strategy is to try to get you to come back to our stores, but part of that strategy is to get you to let us print your photos for you for less money and so the print lasts longer.

    when it comes to equipment always spend as much money as you can afford within reason. you may need a 70-200 2.8 lens, or perhaps you are looking at a 70-200 2.8 with an anti-shake function for four times as much. if you are looking for a lens to do the job and make 4X6 prints, who cares?

    just remember: your memories are priceless, your glass is useful, and your camera is just a piece of plastic and metal.

    rowr.

  29. Nachoman says:

    Rowrtay, what is your definition and the corporate definition of locale for price match?
    Are employees trained to give away the free printers to customers but then talk bad about them, ie the fact that the pictures will not last long and that they need to use Ritz, and buy the Ritz plan to get the better pictures?
    Do you tell your employees to tell customers that their cameras are “just a piece of plastic and metal?”
    I work for a company now where everything (all questions) are answered, and if they are not answered, I am assured they will be quickly. Unlike Ritz where I got no answer and was left hanging too many times.
    Were is the standardization?
    That’s all folks!