Thursday, 18 April 2013

Review: Toronto Shopkeeper Shops Black’s

Is Black’s still photography?

Location: Black's - Dufferin Mall (900 Dufferin Street, Toronto, ON)
Every five years comes that dreaded time when your passport expires and you have to retire that faithful friend. The idea of taking a new passport photo has always filled me with a sense of quiet dread, as inevitably I end up looking like a past-my-prime drug dealer.
Convenience first brought me to Shoppers Drug Mart, where a passport photo costs about $10. After asking a friendly associate for help, a befuddled youth appeared with a point-and-shoot camera. He placed a small stool in an aisle and lowered a background screen. I sat there while he took photo after photo, each time showing me the result on the tiny digital display before he decided to take another. He even offered me blotting paper to take the shine off.
After a quick wait, I paid and left with two copies of my new photo. I know that passport photos always look more mug shot than glamour shot, but I was horrified when I examined the resulting washed out photo. Later that evening I resolved to try the photo experts at Black's and headed to their Dufferin Mall location.
Design: From the mall the store looks inviting with product merchandised along the walls, and glass showcase windows inviting customers to browse from both inside and outside the store. As Black's is now a subsidiary of Telus, the store has a wide selection of mobile phones available and these are prominently displayed by the entrance.
Merchandise: With the shift to digital, Black's has seen some profound changes over the past ten years. It has the requisite digital printing available along with a beefed up assortment of merchandise ranging from compact to digital SLR cameras and lenses. Frames, albums, and accessories are also available. The Telus display is impossible to miss, though I’m not sure if a camera store would be my first port of call when looking to buy a new phone.
Service: There are two associates working as I approach the service desk. After asking if they do passport photos the first associate sighs and says yes they do. When I ask if I can see the photo before it is printed, the associate answers with a curt yes and points to a stool and screen. I feel as though my presence is an imposition. The associate retrieves a camera from the back and I am reassured to see that this is no point-and-shoot.
I sit on the stool and before I know it I see a flash and realize that my photo has been taken. Without a word the associate disappears into the back and the second associate tells me there will be a ten minute wait. I pace through the store quietly annoyed, examining the cameras. (This would have been a great opportunity to try and sell some cameras or accessories to customers as they wait.)
Two additional customers enter looking for passport photos (part of me could see how this could get a little annoying, but then again if I worked at Starbucks I wouldn't be surprised if someone came in and ordered a latte). I watched as the second associate took the next two passport photos, and I couldn't help but notice that this associate showed the customers the images before printing.
After the promised 10 minutes had elapsed, the second associate advised me that there were issues with the printer and that I should return in an hour. It was eight in the evening, and in an hour they would be closed. I was told I should just knock on the door and someone will get my photo for me.
I left the store fuming, and retreated to a nearby coffee shop where I sat mentally composing a pointed letter of complaint. The remainder of the hour spent wandering the mall did little to calm my temper.
After nine, with the mall’s stores closing, I returned to Black's to find the doors closed. Inside I could see the associate who took my photo and I knocked on the glass. The associate silently strode over and slid an envelope under the locked door. I was even more annoyed by the fact there was not even a word of apology for the inconvenience.

I rushed angrily to the parking lot and as I walked I opened the envelope and saw the passport photo. My pace slowed, and I could feel a smile forming. It was good, probably my favourite passport photo ever, and the colour and quality were great. I ripped up that imaginary letter of complaint.
I decided that my Black's experience was like meeting a doctor with a terrible bedside manner, who nevertheless cures what ails you. The passport photo (with the standard two copies) cost about $24. I had no qualms about paying a premium when the quality is evident, however I was annoyed by the lack of care and shabby service. I may have hated the photo from Shoppers Drug Mart but I was nevertheless pleased by the service, and didn’t even think to complain about the quality of the photo.
That being said Black's is the sort of store that I want to do well, and I can remember going there as a child with my parents to get our vacation photos developed. I couldn’t help thinking there were many ways that would make both my experience more positive and their bottom line better. While I was waiting I could have been offered help with the cameras or mobile devices, having a captive audience of waiting customers is a great opportunity to sell.
Online: Black's has a fairly extensive and user friendly website. Cameras and accessories are available to purchase and prints and photo printed merchandise can be ordered. The ability to create custom photo books is a particularly nice touch. Their website promotes a passport photo guarantee, if your photos are rejected by Passport Canada then Black's will refund your money and offer a complimentary new photo.
Grade: 50%
Lost marks for: a lack of decent customer service. You could have the best product in the world but if your customer leaves with a negative experience they are unlikely to come back.
Gained marks for: quality, there was no denying that in this instance you got what you paid for.
Postscript: Black's has contacted Toronto Shopkeeper in regards to the review above. I appreciate their response and their call to action. Here is their message:

"First I’d like to apologise, at Black’s providing our customers with great service is our goal and the staff member you dealt with clearly failed. I’ve asked the Regional Manager for this location to follow up with the Store Manager and create an action plan to ensure that the staff are fully trained and providing service to our customers that we can be proud of." - Black's