He said Ritz announced one-hour last Fall. "We could have been out sooner, but we first wanted to meet the expectations of our customers." The fact that Wal-Mart announced a one-hour program at about that time might have accelerated Ritz's plan.
While the Ritz chain is 1,150 stores big, at this time about 600 are equipped to handle the online-one hour program, according to Rich. He expects that to increase by 200 by the end of the year with additional locations next year. One issue is the availability of DSL broadband.
Rich said that having the online facility essentially keeps the store open 24 hours a day, allowing customers to 'bring in their rolls' anytime, day or night, unlike an order at the counter where a customer requests the finished order by a certain time, Rich said that the store lab manager has to assume that every incoming online order must be ready in one hour. In commercial areas he noted that customers upload from the office and pick up prints at lunch or on the way home. He said the online program has been growing rapidly: "up over 100% every month this year" "Once they try it, they like it."
He indicated there are unique expenses related to online: high speed connection costs; software upgrades; software maintenance; internet costs.
Despite the extra dollar burden, Ritz charges 29-cents per 4x6 print (27-cents/print for club members) whether it's an online digital print or when a customer brings a media card or CD into the store.
In addition to serving its own retail customers with an online program, Ritz has partnered with such names as Sony, Sprint, Google and others with high profile websites that offer customers print services fulfilled by Ritz.
Wal-Mart has an aggressive digital input program, both one-hour online as well as in-store. According to Dave Rogers, Wal-Mart's photofinishing chief of over 3,000 locations, digital inputs now represent about 25% of all prints made and by this time next year he expects this number to climb to 40%. He looks at 2007 as the year that more prints will be made from digital sources than negative film.
Dave said that many customers do show up in about an hour for their uploaded print order but more common is the customer that uploads and retrieves on the next store visit. He did state that uploaded orders, on average, result in about 20% more prints than in-store inputs. "Customers have more leisurely time to decide on their selection and quantity."
He noted that the handling of orders uploaded from home is a major labor saver for counter personnel who can spend 10-15 minutes with a customer who will explain, in detail, the choices of which prints are to be made from a digital image on a media card. Even a kiosk user, especially a new one, demands clerk time and attention.
"There was nothing faster than taking a roll of film from a customer and filling in a name and address on an envelope," he noted. Dave said that a digital order slows down the rhythm of the counter.
Kiosks are increasingly important, according to Dave. He said that by the end of the year every mid- and high-volume store will have at least two Fuji Aladdin DPC kiosks. Every new store gets a pair of them. Each store also has a Kodak G-3 for immediate on-board dye-sub prints.
Wal-Mart charges for online uploads and in-store uploads at the same 19-cents for a 4R. G-3 price per 4R is 36-cents. Sam's Club, Wal-Mart's warehouse operation, also offers one-hour uploads for its membership base and its website shows a price of 15-cents a print.
Both Ritz and Wal-Mart, major Fuji Frontier users, are tied into the Fuji software infrastructure necessary to handle uploads from home. Many independent Frontier owners are also listed on the Fujifilm.com website as being able to accept online uploading, though only a few offer one-hour pick-up.
Costco is right now ramping up its own upload program and promising one hour delivery at the store. According to their website, 4R prints will be priced at 17-cents each. A note on the page says, "Powered by Snapfish." District Photo, Beltsville, MD., is providing the software infrastructure for the program. On a telephone call to my local Costco I was told they were expecting the service shortly.