New York Daily Photo Analytics

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Who Your Friends Are

Things are good when everything is going well and there usually is no trouble when there are no problems. The test of a friendship or business is how they fare under adversity. Smooth sales are smooth sailing.

I once read a recommendation from a business CEO who suggested that one of the best ways to assess the customer service of your own business is to call your company, fabricate a problem or complaint and see how it is handled.

The business environment is extremely competitive and over the years, return policies have become more and more lenient. However, although a very liberal return policy is something that most quality businesses want to proudly offer, the true measure of this policy is how readily the company embraces it and in the customer experience of the return process itself.

In the 1980s, I was located in lower Manhattan near J&R Music World. Prices were competitive, inventory good and the sales staff very knowledgeable, so this is where I found myself making virtually all of my electronic purchases. Salesmen would extol the lenient return policy in making the sale. However, when we needed to make a visit to their return department, it was with great trepidation.

The return department was located in the basement - a the perfect metaphor for what was often a short hellish experience of being put through a fire of questioning as to why an item was being returned. There was always a "scary guy" serving as gatekeeper to getting the coveted store credit. Telling him that the salesman had said that any reason for return was adequate was apparently no longer really adequate on the day of return. Sometimes a small interrogation and/or debate ensued with the customer having to justify his or her return. The customer typically prevailed, but the experience served as a warning to the whimsical returner.

Things have changed since then - we are in a different world. Most retailers, have learned that if you make an offer, don't punish the customer for accepting it. At B&H Photo (see You're Not in Kansas) e.g., returns are done without a question (other than perhaps if the product was broken), even with products in the thousands of dollars.

Retail giants are quite routinized in their handling of returns. The volume of returns prohibits customer interrogation and the size of the companies allows for absorption of monetary loss. Companies like Nordstrom's and LL Bean are legendary with no time limits on returns. In New York City, Macy's is well known for a very liberal return process.

With the small independent shop, however, taking many returns can be a financial hardship. This is where the customer may find many terms and conditions, difficulties and charlatans. In times of personal hardship or when returning goods in New York City, you will quickly find out who your friends are :)


Mary P. said...

Was there yesterday! Didn't find exactly what I wanted, but it's such an unusual store, I'm a little intimidated.

NYC In Photographs said...

Heh, I was there last week and that same seated gentlemen helped me with my return. B & H really is a great store.

Hershel K. Waldner said...


Thank you for your kind mention of B&H Photo. On behalf of all of us at B&H Photo, please accept our warm thanks and deep gratitude for your patronage. We strive daily and look forward to earning your trust and continued business for many years to come. I invite you and your fellow readers to check out our new, informative and entertaining blog at

Hershel K. Waldner
Online Marketing Department
B&H Photo-Video-Audio
212-239-7500 ext. 2893

Jack said...

I buy from B&H online and so far have had no reason to deal with their returns function. I agree that it is a quality operation in all other ways that have affected me.

MaggieGem said...

Wonderful writeup! I've never had to return anything at B&H, but I've purchased and always been satisfied!

Leslie said...

In all fairness, I've been to the J & R returns department within the last year (now nicely remodeled and with a bathroom close by) and all I got was speedy and polite service. No problems anymore! Give them a try if you are downtown!

Brian Dubé said...

Leslie. No question. I am a regular shopper there and things are very good now.


beautiful pics

David Makaroff said...

One of the reasons I can truly say I(heart)NY is because of B&H Photo. It is extremely rare to find a store where you can try out just about any item in their catalog. But even more rare than that is having staff on hand that are capable of answering any question I have ever been able to throw their way.

I have but one complaint about B&H. To be fair, it's the same beef I have with the whole city. Why does it have to be so far away from the west coast?

Brian Dubé said...

David - I couldn't agree more. They're a model for how retailers should operate.

Anonymous said...

My experience with JR was not that nice. They fooled my friend to get something that wouldn't work on her computer even though she specified the operating system on her computer. She is timid so she asked me to come along when she would return it. The "returns" guy didn't want at first to accept the return (claiming there was nothing wrong with the product, so there was no reason to return it), then he wanted to charge a restocking fee. Ridiculous stuff. After insisting finally they got me a supervisor who accepted the return and with full refund. As for BH... they have good selection of products but they don't have the best prices, and their return policies are not customer friendly... For example if you buy a camera, you cannot return it if you've taken already some small number of pictures with it already, which is ridiculous since you may have to take several pictures in "trying it out" to see if it's really what you want. Also they only give you 2 weeks while BestBuy for example gives you at least 1 month and they are flexible. In short: BH and JR are not the most customer friendly stores. And I don't mean in the easy way which is whether their stuff knows the product info (aren't they supposed to?) or if they smile and are attentive, which is also part of their job description.

Ilke said...


I bought my camera online from B&H, actually never saw the store itself in NY, hope to see :)

By the way all the experience online was just 'great'. The staff is very helpful and kind when answering all your 'dumb' questions :)

Also thanks for your lopvely posts, I love reading them :)