An Open Letter from Your Local Camera Store Clerk


Dear Photographer,

It is no secret that local business is suffering in the digitized times, with camera stores being some of the worst to feel this pinch. In our region, we are one of the only camera stores for miles in each direction. Many of our customers drive upwards of 2 hours just to come into our store to shop with us, which says a lot about the state of the photo retail world, and how far great customer service reaches.

The economic swings we have had over the past few years have also altered buying habits dramatically, with shoppers (especially those in an expensive profession such as photography) looking for the best deals they can get. In addition, educational information on photography and the act itself are more accessible than ever, making it much harder to convince people that a $2,000 camera set is worth their investment with a person looking to become a serious photographer.

From here on out, I am here to address common complaints, issues, and misinformation that customers may have (and have had) with your local photo retail store, which has negative impacts on our business, but also, has damaging effects to the financial well-being of those who took their time and knowledge to help you.


Let’s talk about Genuine customer complaints first…

#1: “B&H/Amazon has this for cheaper…”

In the photography retail world, corporations such as Nikon, Sony and Canon have what is called “Price Fixing”. What that means is that Nikon, Sony and Canon set the prices for the products at a certain margin to make a profit, also, setting Unit cost, and Retail cost margin so small, that even if you were to mess with the price, it would hurt the store MORE to drop it without Nikon or Canon’s approval.

What this also means is that unless Nikon, Sony & Canon TELLS US it’s ok to lower the price or apply a particular discount, it means that even places like B&H MUST adhere to those prices or face punishment. This punishment can come in the form of these companies pulling inventory from our stores, which would be detrimental for any local photo retail business. If you are seeing it for less, you should be very careful, because you might be purchasing a faulted or grey market camera.

There are some deals that B&H and Amazon offer from Nikon, Sony, and Canon that we are late to getting information about, with us being a smaller business. However, most of the time, we have no problem matching it depending on the item in question.


#2 “B&H/Amazon Doesn’t charge me tax…”

You got us beat there, there is nothing we can do for you about that when shopping at our store locally. However, that is only half true. Every state except New Hampshire is subject to tax on purchases within the store. Same is true for B&H. The reason you get a tax free purchase with an order from Amazon and B&H online is because their state can only force sales tax if there is NO physical presence in the state you live in.

Please be careful though, if you are running a business, you will be claiming your equipment and business costs, which means that will be subject to offsetting your taxes with it, so ducking it forever isn’t a wise option for any business.

#3 “This is way too expensive! You guys must be jacking the price up!”

I know it can seem that way when buying camera gear and products. Photography is an expensive hobby and profession. It’s specialty product with a name, a reputation and a business to run and maintain as well. We are just a small part of the actual process, and we have zero say in how they choose to price it. If you need any more questions answered, please see complaint #1.

#4. “I should get a discount, I’m a professional photographer…”

You are in luck at our store, actually! If you have a customer history with us, build a relationship with us here at our store, and we know you are a working professional, we have no problem giving you a 10-15% discount! Customer loyalty goes a long way these days at our store, even more so if we see you frequently and know you on a first name basis as soon as you walk in.

Please, don’t get used to it though. Most stores do not have the funds to offer discounts just because of a professional status. Also, if any store does not know you, if you have returned all the stuff you have bought through any store, if you make brash demands on your professional status, then no, that 10-15% will NOT be extended to you just because you think it should.


Now that we have cleared that up, let’s talk about how you can help us stay in business. There are a few things you should be aware of that you might do, that is hurting our business, and most importantly, the people who give their time and energy to educate and help you.

#1. We are more than happy to educate you on some things, but…

You as a photographer know that time is valuable more than anyone. Would you as a photographer offer a free lesson to someone you don’t know for an hour? My guess is you probably wouldn’t, which is understandable. Everyone’s time is valuable. We have a lot of things to service during the day. Our job is not super easy, and our solid paychecks are reliant on customers buying product. If you take up 2 hours of our time, that’s 2 hours out of our 7.5 hour day we lost on commission.

We will never tell you “NO”, and I know I love teaching. However, I ask that you be considerate of our time as well, and realize that you are not the only customer and person who needs to make money.

#2. Most of our paycheck is commission based.

Everytime you come into the store and buy something from us, we see money for that sale. Sometimes those sales are split depending on if we had someone help us with finalizing the sale. The amount depends on the product (and no, if you buy a Nikon D810 for $3,500, we don’t get $300 on it like you might think, we get around $20, which is one of the least profitable, and least sold, things in the store).

If you return that product within a 30 day period, it’s a no question asked guarantee, which happily protects you, but, hurts us. We have NO protection against the money coming back into the store, our management takes it out of the employee who made the transactions check. If you figure 20 people do that in a week, you can imagine how much money that takes out of the employee’s pocket.

A lot of the time those return requests are understandable and reasonable. However, sometimes they are not and you, the customer, may not realize it. Take the time to think before buying and returning, you could be costing an employee a week’s worth of groceries or paying a bill depending on the return. Would you allow someone to do that to you?


#3. Please do not make our store your #1 stop for free rental service.

Segwaying off the end of #2, we of all people understand that some of the people who come in to the store are a working professionals, and are very busy and strapped for time. You may have forgot to get a certain lens for a shoot, a particular body for a video shoot, or a flash broke and you need some quickly. However, this does not mean that your local camera shop should be used for buying equipment and returning it 24 hours later. This is probably one of the WORST things you can do for the local camera shop near you for a few reasons:

A. It takes money out of the employees time who helped you purchase it and talk to you about it before you bought it (see #2)

B. We only get a limited stock of certain products. With bigger name products such as Nikon D810s or Canon 5D Mk IIIs, we get 1, 2 if we are lucky sometimes. By taking it and using it to returning it, that was most likely the only one we had fresh in box, which leads me to “C”.

C. It gives us used product we have to put on the shelf. Our store (and many stores) can not lower the price because of #1, and, because it was a full return within the 30 days return policy, means as a company, we are not allowed to call it used, but have to sell it at full price and as new, when it was used for who knows what. What do think happens when a customer finds this info out?

“I should get a discount,” they say… and I personally believe they should. But I can’t give it. My hands are tied as a sales representative, and I do not make the rules from Nikon, Canon and the company I do not work for. Which means: we lose the customer, we lose business, and the product sits gaining nothing for the company it belongs to, the store, or the sales representative. And the worst part, they got it for FREE for a PAID gig, and the next person now pays FULL PRICE for USED product. Not cool.

#4. Please don’t bring us damaged goods and ask for a full refund.

You would be surprised how many people lose the box, the manuals, come back with a dinged up camera and say “I didn’t like the camera, I’d like a full refund”. Not only will you be giving us damaged goods, we will have to charge you a restocking fee for it, and to boot, we will have to contact the manufacturer to replace the damaged items. This can take 2-5 weeks to get to us, during which time it can’t be put on the shelf and sold.


#5. I do apologize, you can not have it all for $400

“Can I get a brand new amazing DSLR, with a macro lens, a bag, memory cards, that does 4K video and autofocusing video? Oh, and my budget is $400”.

There is just nothing like that that really exists. If you buy used, you might be able to find something, but not new. If you want the best, you are going to need to spend for it. You can get some great cameras for under $400, and package deals for around $450, but they will be subject to tax, you will need add-ons like memory cards, which will put you over your budget.

We are here and very happy to help you whether you support local business, or need something in a pinch, all we can ask in return is see these list of things above, being so kind as to not abuse our store. We are not like Best Buy’s or Walmart’s camera staff. All of us here are well educated and are very hard working. Please help us stay in business and keep our own personal refrigerators full.


Your friendly local photo retail store clerk

Editor’s update: A reader emailed in to point out that buying a product, using it, and returning it on purpose is illegal and a form of return fraud.

About the author: The author of this piece is a brick-and-mortar camera store clerk, who has chosen to remain anonymous to protect himself, his co-workers, and the photo retail store in which he works.

About the author: Photographs by Randy Heinitz, Phillip Pessar, Kimmo Räisänen, Chris Gladis, fauxto_digit, and Alan Levine