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Second Revolution Erupts For "One-Hour"



Wal-Mart and Ritz Break the Barrier By Offering One-Hour Digital Processing

The revolutionary concept of returning color prints to customers in an hour started in about 1980. An industry was born and it was led by entrepreneurs who challenged the traditional turnaround of 7-10 days that was then the industry standard.

Now, just about 25 years later, one hour service is being reborn. This time the big players are leading the way. Wal-Mart is telling consumers who upload their digital images to the Wal-Mart website that they can pick up their prints at any Wal-Mart store in one hour. The program, announced with some fanfare, includes Sam's Club, as well, Wal-Mart's membership store.

Ritz Camera had been offering four-hour turnaround for many months and recently reduced that to two hours. Now, the 1,200-store photo specialty chain, is also beating the drums with a one-hour service on digital uploads following the Wal-Mart lead.

With this move to one-hour, Ritz and Wal-Mart are throwing down the gauntlet to challenge both the home printing market on one hand and such online services as Ofoto, Shutterfly and Snapfish on the other. Customers of these services are at the mercy of the U.S. Post Office for their prints and delivery takes a few daysóand a few extra dollars for shipping.

Wal-Mart and Ritz have fired opening salvos in the new one-hour war by offering one-hour digital processing through their websites.

Both Ritz and Wal-Mart are using Fuji Frontier digital minilabs as well as the Fuji software for the uploading of images to the store sites.

The new service is being offered by Wal-Mart and Ritz at the same print prices that each charges for printing at the store: Wal-Mart is 24-cents for a 4x6; Sam's Club, 18-cents; Ritz, 29-cents for club members.

The leaders in the online upload business price as follows: Ofoto gets 29-cents for a 4R; Shutterfly, 29-cents, or 22-cents if you order 450 prints and prepay the order; Snapfish, 19-cents. Shipping charges are extra in each case.

The announcements from Wal-Mart and Ritz on the one-hour turn, already being promoted on their respective websites, comes on the heels of a publicity release from Kodak that it had a new digital upload program with such favored customers as CVS, Wegmans, Kroger, Bartell and Hy-Vee Drug. They are promoting a service to return orders uploaded by 5 pm for next day pickup.

The major difference, of course, is that the Wal-Mart and Ritz uploads are being printed right at the retail pickup site while Kodak's Qualex labs are fulfilling the orders uploaded to these accounts and must be delivered to the individual stores by courier.

Interestingly, the on-site industry, both the photo specialists and mass merchants, to now, have been somewhat reluctant to offer a one hour service even for digital uploads made on the kiosks in their own stores. Store personnel have been more comfortable dealing with a kiosk order more like a reprint order and suggesting a pickup in a few hours or next day.

The opportunity for the independent specialist to take the industry lead with one-hour turn on digital ordersówhether uploaded online or via a kioskówas never seized even though the capability was in place with their kiosks and digital labs. No doubt, that will now change but it took the clout of Wal-Mart to shake the limbs.

Dave Rogers, Wal-Mart's vice president, said, "We are taking our one-hour photo service to a whole new level. We believe it will revolutionize the way our customers process digital photo prints."

How does the industry view the Wal-Mart move? Bestphotolist has a number of folks willing to weigh in with an opinion.

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