Monday, October 03, 2011

Why B&H Photo aren't the best thing since sliced bread

I'm now officially confused. The whole photographic world seems to think B&H Photo is the best thing since sliced bread. Except me. Why could that be?

I was in New York recently, on business, and had the opportunity to visit B&H Photo for the first time. I'd heard AMAZING things about B&H that this was a dream come true for this photo enthusiast. The range of goods for sale, the prices, the helpful staff, the general AWESOMENESS of this store. I was excited!

I was working in our office on 6th Avenue so it wasn't too much of a walk to get to the store - about 10 blocks south and three or four west. I was actually bouncing along thinking of all the marvellous things I was going to buy there. I even had a shopping list!

The first disappointment was the near perfect lack of gear on display. Sure, you could pick up a bag from LowePro or a Giottos monopod - but where were the cameras? The flashes? The lenses?

None of the stuff you actually want to pick up, touch and check out are on display. No, you have to queue up to see an "Advisor". It's a bit like Gringotts Bank...

Anyway, I didn't have huge amounts of time on that visit so I picked up one of their fabulous catalogues and made tracks.

A couple of days later I went back. I had more time this time. All would be well.

I had checked the prices of lenses and flashes and a few other things I wanted. All of them were cheaper at home. All. Of. Them. B&H Photo is NOT a cheap place to shop.

Still I thought I would try and get something to take home with me. I spent some time with one of the shop floor based sales team and he was incredibly helpful, knowledgable and gave some excellent advice. I identified something reasonable to get at around the $100 level (so not a token buy but not super expensive either) and this is where my B&HPhoto experience got completely surreal.

Actually having the temerity to want to BUY something at B&H triggers the following process.

  1. You identify what you want to buy. 
  2. The shop floor assistant helps you to queue up to see one of the Gringotts Goblins, sorry, Advisors who spend several minutes tapping information into a computer.
  3. A little while later a green box appears on one of the conveyor belts with your item in it. 
  4. Aha! I can pay for it and go.
  5. No. The item is put back in the box and disappears (wtf?)
  6. I get given a piece of paper which tells me how much to pay.
  7. I get my credit card out and I am told no, you have to go downstairs to pay. Huh?
  8. Where's the thing I want to buy?
  9. It'll be waiting for you downstairs. Huh?
  10. So. I go downstairs and realise that I have to queue up again. 
  11. I have to queue to pay. 
  12. Aha! Thinks me. I will pay cash. That will be quicker. Er... No. It won't actually. The credit card queue goes pretty quickly (in comparison). 
  13. It's then that I lose the will to live (and shop again in B&H)
  14. I realise there is another ENORMOUS queue at the pick up point. 
  15. I leave. 
  16. They don't get my custom and, for all I know, there is still an item in a green box waiting for me at B&H.
For folks in the UK, it's a bit like what life would be like if Ryanair ran an Argos branch in Diagon Alley!

So. Did I have a bad experience? Did I get it all wrong about B&H?

Or is it a shop run by people who simply don't trust their customers and who have invented a purchasing process which is so arcane it made me, a photographic shop-till-I-drop shopper, give up?

1 comment:

  1. I hope you go back to B&H next time you're in New York -- please realize that the queues may appear long but they move very, very quickly. Can't attest to the price comparison -- for you , I suspect the attractiveness will depend a lot on currency conversion. I can only attest that compared to my home currency, the HK dollar, B&H is usually a steal, even with sales tax included (which I think you might be able to get reimbursed, worth looking into).

    And what is this thing called "cash," anyway?