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

6/14/2011

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Photo albumSt. Louis, Mo., June 14, 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. Several of the complainants are from the St. Louis area.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) 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, the lowest grade possible.

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 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 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 cutsomer service.

“From the get-go, it was just screwed up,” said a customer from St. Charles, Mo., who said Century Photo took $181 from her bank account last July. She said she still had not received the products or a refund as of last week.

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).  There were five complaints from Missouri.

Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, 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.

The customer from St. Charles said she had done business for years with Century Photo and had recommended it to family members and friends.  “This had been an excellent company,” she said.  But when she did not receive an order of archival photo pages from the business and could not get a refund after numerous attempts, she contacted the BBB.

A customer of Century Photo from Columbia, Mo., said she, too, had been happy with her past orders from the business. She said she ordered $128 in archival photo albums and pages from Century Photo in October 2010.  Soon after, she received about $3 worth of the items, but never received the rest of her order. “I am fed up,” she said.

A St. Louis customer of Light Impressions said she has been trying unsuccessfully for five months to get a refund on $121 in document storage supplies she ordered in September 2010. “I used to sit at the phone during my break from work and just redial and redial,” she said of her efforts.  She said she was stunned by the problem because of the company’s stellar past reputation.

On Friday, an official representing Century Photo and Light Impressions told the 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.

The 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.
  • Get a BBB Business Review by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.

Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-584-6800, mcorey@stlouisbbb.org, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743, communications@stlouisbbb.org

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