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Ethics of Camera Returns

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by demiro, Aug 23, 2012.

  1. demiro

    demiro Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Nov 7, 2010
    Chuck, don't mean to put you on the spot here, but some input from B&H would be interesting. There is a thread going on HERE, discussing the ethics of taking advantage of "no questions asked" return policies like B&H offers.

    No one seems to think it is OK to buy with the intent of returning an item, but we seem split on whether it is OK to "buy and try", frequently buying new cameras to try them out, logically knowing that you cannot keep them all over time.

    It would be great to hear B&H's perspective on this, and to understand how the return policy is accounted for at B&H with pricing and back to camera manufacturers. I'm probably asking for too big a peak behind the curtain on this, but again, anything you can add to the discussion would be great as you deal with these issues as part of your business every day.

    Thanks.
     
  2. spinyman

    spinyman Mu-43 Top Veteran

    603
    Nov 19, 2010
    San Diego
    I hadn't thought of going to the source for his opinion.Brilliant.
     
  3. Promit

    Promit Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 6, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Promit Roy
    I believe subjectivity is the whole point. Gotta see both sides.
     
  4. henryp

    henryp Sponsor

    64
    Jan 18, 2010
    New York, NY
    Henry Posner
    Chuck asked me to weigh in. I have not read the thread demiro linked to yet, but I will.

    It seems there are two questions:
    - Is it ethical for a customer to take advantage of a retailer's return policy to "buy and try," or to get (for instance) 5 lenses, select the one he/she likes and send back the others?
    - Is it ethical for a retailer to restock as new a returned item under ANY circumstances at all?

    I'll try to be brief, considering limits of space and time. This is MY opinion, not B&H's corporate philosophy.

    I think for a retailer to answer the first can be dangerously self-serving. If a retailer offers a no-questions-asked return policy (either out of the retailer's generosity or because his competitors are doing so and he feels obliged to keep pace) the retailer then has only limited recourse when a customer takes advantage of that policy, no matter what the customer's reason. If a retailer finds the policy too expensive he has every right (and a fiduciary responsibility) to modify it to maximize business, including market share and profits. If a retailer finds an individual customer taking advantage of the policy to an unacceptable extent, the retailer is well within his rights to limit the return policy for that customer or ban the customer outright. B&H has done both in the past. Is it ethical? As a customer I don't think so and don't do it. As a retailer my ethical responsibility is, having established a return policy, to enforce it fairly and equitably.

    Is it ever ethical for a retailer to restock as new an item purchased and then returned by a customer? IMO it certainly is and US retailers do it all the time. The only exceptions I can think of offhand are prescription pharmaceuticals, underwear and swimsuits (unless still in an unopened package), and food.

    Realistically what do you think happened to the lime green sweater Aunt Harriet gave you last Christmas? You opened the box, smiled wanly, maybe even tried it on to humor her while over her shoulder your wife was gagging. The next Monday it went back to Saks or Bloomies in, for all practical purposes, as-new condition and went back on the retailer's shelf until the end of the season when after it went unsold despite repeated markdowns it ended up in some remaindered bin, considerably more shopworn and tattered than when you returned it.

    Now I know a $1000 lens or a $2500 dslr is a bit more than and different than that sweater but retail is retail and if it's okay for one it should be for the other.

    This does not include a product returned because the customer alleges it's defective. For those almost all are returned to our supplier, even though we usually do not get a 100% refund or an even 1:1 exchange from that supplier. Every return costs the retailer money, one way or another.

    An anecdote from the era when film still reigned. A customer wanted to trade up from his entry level Nikon slr to a then-new FM3a. We sent one and he returned it claiming it was defective out of the box. Same with the second and when the third came back I was asked to get involved.

    Turns out the camera he owned had a one-latch system to open the back to load film but the FM3a required him to lift the rewind knob and then actuate the latch. He never read the manual but simple presumed the new camera worked as the old one did.

    Three cameras shipped; three returned all under the claim of defective. None was defective and in fact each was in pristine untouched condition. What would you have done with them?

    As I said, This is MY opinion, not B&H's corporate philosophy. I will make Chuck pay for passing the buck on this later.
     
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  5. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    As far as manufacturers go--I think I am qualified to speak for them--it is a huge problem. It really impacts their bottom line and margins are thin. Which is why they spend so much time and effort to minimize defects--if you consider the precision it takes to build a camera, the defect rate is amazingly small. No manufacture wants to be labelled as making unreliable products either. The US is the market with the highest returns and abuse of return policies.

    There is a fine line between new and untouched. An open box does not make a camera used or even a demo. You might even say it is pretested.
     
  6. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    Boston
    It's also why I buy refurb. There is a % of failed units in any given run. Refurb means the failure was identified and addressed.
     
  7. Mellow

    Mellow Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2010
    Florida or Idaho
    Tom
    This is a serious subject, and I didn't expect to laugh out loud when I read your reply . . . but I did.
     
  8. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    No, a refurb means a perfectly working camera was returned and had to be sold at a lower price because of cosmetic damage--digital camera really cannot be repaired.
     
  9. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    Boston
    I did not know that. But Oly repaired my EP1 and EPM1, so they can be repaired??

    At any rate, it was retested (at least, I'm assuming???). If the sensor was 1/2 burned out, for example, that would have been flagged by the user, or flagged in the second testing.

    That's my assumption, but if you know more, please share!
     
  10. Promit

    Promit Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 6, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Promit Roy
    Refurb means it was sold new, came back (for ANY reason), and was certified for sale a second time by the manufacturer. That could mean somebody didn't like the color, or the sensor glass shattered, or anything. Heck, maybe it's reassembled from parts of dead cameras.
     
  11. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Jason
    When it comes to cameras, I maintain that to reduce returns, especially in the context of mirrorless or high end compacts, the onus is on the manufacturer to get the camera onto the shelves for customers to see in brick and mortar stores. If a camera can't be found in a 50 mile radius in store and has been out for 6 months, what else can a customer do but to buy it, try it out, and see if it fits them ergonomically? I suppose the customer could rent the camera, but renting the camera in many cases is much more than the restocking fee. The other issue with renting a camera is that the renter is at the mercy of the company renting it in terms of the quality and maintainance of the camera.
     
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  12. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    It is too costly to repair many cameras. It is certainly too costly to reassemble a camera.
     
  13. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    I have bought many cameras I have never held. Never returned a single one. Cameras are designed for the human hand and the dimensions are clearly posted, so there not an infinite number of possibilities regarding size. If you have a little experience with a camera type, it is not difficult to judge a camera. If you don't have experience, then you make your best guess--if you have no experience then the camera is what it is (why would I complain a sports car only has two seats when it clearly only has two seats).
     
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  14. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Jason
    I can't disagree more. It is not just about the size or shape of the camera. Its a combination of size, shape, weight, and where the buttons are. When mFT cameras first came out, they weren't in the stores, weren't available for rent, and there was no other camera close to compare the feel too. Dealing with a two seater vs a four seater is about a feature and nothing regarding driving ergonomics in a car. As a 6'2 large man, you'd be suprised to find that some larger cars don't fit me right ergonomically while some smaller cars do. It comes down to the design of the driver area, where the pedals are, where the controls are..etc.

    While I have more experience now with mFT format and how they feel in my hand, that doesn't mean that the E-M5 is going to feel the same way that my E-PL2 does in my hand. How would I know unless I can hold one?
     
  15. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    Well, I would say an E-M5 and an E-PL2 are not the same camera and will not feel the same. I can tell that from the pictures. I can also tell where the buttons are. But I can easily learn to use a new button layout. But I don't have to hold either to tell if I would buy one.

    As a 5'12" kind of guy, I know how small cameras are and the relative size of the button because they are about the same size on all cameras in a particular class. Give me an Olympus or Panasonic and I can use them just as well. Any difference is easy to compensate for.

    Sorry, I think the ergonomic argument is very, very minor.
     
  16. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    Boston
    I'm with Djarum on this one. Maybe after you've used a lot of them, you'll know the new model iterations, but if you haven't, touching and holding is important. I only bought an EPM1 (which I had completely written off) because I bumped into one and got to play with it. I was sure it was too small, but it was perfect for me. Never would have bought one (actually, I bought two) except that I got to hold one.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  17. demiro

    demiro Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Nov 7, 2010
    For you it may be, for others it is clearly not. Silly to keep insisting that we all should be as easy to please as you are.

    As a 6'3" person with large hands I know I have to handle and use a camera to know if it works for me. And most do. But as an example, I find the GF3 to be a very comfy camera to hold and use, despite it's size. I once purchased a Canon SX20 super zoom. DSLR style with a nice looking grip. It felt good when I picked it up, but the way I had to hold my hand and fingers created a cramp in my hand after only a few minutes. Tried it for maybe two weeks. No change. Sold it. I had purchased it used, but if I had purchased it new from some place like B&H I think I would have returned it for a refund. If I had tried it at a B&M store I kind of doubt I would have noticed the issue.
     
  18. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    But your example is different--you bought it because you held one. This is about dissatisfaction where you return it.

    I am saying the ergonomics of a camera are not that important because no one returns something because of the placement of a button or the shape of a grip. Generally speaking, the image and specifications of a camera will meet enough of the buyer's expectations. I have read about lot of folks complain about this stuff, but I can't recall them being annoyed enough to pack it in and send it back, although I am sure there are exceptions, but that might not be the camera's fault.
     
  19. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Jason
    I think everyone is different here. I can use a camera for a few minutes that I'm not comfortable with. After hours of use, my hand hurts after using my E-P1, but not my E-PL2. Yet I have no issues holding a Canon A560 all day either. The E-PL2 is very different than a Canon A560.
     
  20. Hikari

    Hikari Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 26, 2010
    Why do you think I am the outlier? If this was such a big problem, the camera companies would be out of business with products people cannot hold--and they have a great deal of experience with camera ergonomics. Now, was your cramp a problem with the camera, or a problem with your hand? One is harder to foresee than the other.