Century Photo, Light Impressions Leave Hundreds Of Unhappy Customers, BBB Warns

June 27, 2011
Two California businesses that have sold photo and document storage products nationwide for more than 40 years are facing an avalanche of recent complaints from customers who say they waited months for items that never arrived. Two of the complaints are from the Tucson area.

Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona advises consumers to think twice before ordering from Century Photo or Light Impressions.  Both businesses have the same office address in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.  Both have “F” grades with the BBB.

A June 9 report on Century Photo showed the BBB had received 312 complaints involving the business in the past three years, 304 of those were received in the past 12 months. The report showed that Century Photo did not respond to 287 of those complaints.

A BBB report for Light Impressions showed 178 complaints for the same three-year period, with 172 of those filed in the past 12 months.  The report showed Light Impressions did not respond to 145 of those complaints.

Most of the complainants allege a failure to deliver ordered merchandise, nonpayment of refunds and poor customer service.

“I ordered my product, and I haven’t heard a word from them since,” said Norm Rechkemmer, a customer from Tucson who ordered from Century Photo this past February. “I’ve been ordering from them for years, and I just want to see them go back to being a good company.”

Another Tucson consumer, Andrea Chambers, said she had a similar experience with the company. Chambers told BBB that she had been a long-time customer of Century Photo, until one day they stopped shipping her orders.

“I’ve been doing business with them for at least 40 years, and all of the sudden something changed,” she said. “It was very sudden.”

Chambers said that she still loves the products Century Photo has offered throughout the years, and if they correct whatever problems they’re currently having she wouldn’t hesitate to order from them again.

From Jan. 1, 2010 to June 8 of this year, the BBB received complaints against Century Photo from 44 states and Washington, D.C. Most of those complaints came from Illinois (25), Ohio (19), Missouri and New York (18 each) and Pennsylvania (16).

In the same period, Light Impressions generated complaints from 38 states. Recording the most consumer complaints were California (30), Pennsylvania (16), New York (11), Illinois and Maryland (9 each).  

Kim States, BBB President, said, “many of the consumers we have heard from say they dealt with these businesses for years and were very satisfied with their past experiences. For customer service to deteriorate so quickly and so completely in a matter of months is a concern.”

Both Century Photo and Light Impressions are under the corporate umbrella of New Century Direct of Santa Fe Springs. A website for New Century Direct says Century Photo was established in 1953 and offers a line of photo albums, photo pages, scrapbooks, collector accessories and genealogy products.

The same site says Light Impressions was established in 1969 and offers “the world’s largest variety of fine archival storage, display and presentation materials.”  The site says customers include museums, galleries and photographers.

The companies sell products from websites and through mail order catalogs.

On June 10, an official representing Century Photo and Light Impressions told BBB the businesses were aware of the problems, claiming they resulted from disputes with vendors. He said he also was aware that the businesses were violating the Federal Trade Commission’s Mail Order Rule and said they will begin either shipping orders or refunding all customers.

BBB offers the following advice for consumers ordering items online or through merchandise catalogs:
  • Pay by credit card whenever possible. If there is a problem with the order, you can challenge it with the credit card company.
  • Before ordering online or through a catalog, it may be a good idea to attempt to make direct contact with a customer service representative. If that is not possible, or if you are put on hold for a long period before being able to speak to someone, that could be a sign of other problems.

For more information on how consumers can protect themselves against scams, or to find reputable businesses they can visit www.tucson.bbbb.org.