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