Please DO NOT have fun in our store!

Macy's No Photography SignI have a huge pet peeve with retailers that still ban photography in their stores.  Shopping needs to be a fun and engaging experience.  If I’m so attached to your brand that I want to take photo’s for my social network or blog, you should encourage me to do so.

It’s particularly ironic that many stores with a no photography policy are in the photo business.  Did you know that Apple retail has a no photography policy?  Apple must know that this kid makes music videos in their store using the store provided webcam and internet connection, and that these videos have over 1,000,000 hits on YouTube!  I’ve had a Apple store manager (politely) inform me that “technically we don’t allow photography in our stores.”  I asked him if he encouraged shoppers to try the cameras built into the dozens of laptops, phones and iPods in his store; of course he did!  It’s great that people want to play in the Apple stores, and Apple should be embracing that level engagement, not trying to stifle it.  Happily, very few Apple employees try to enforce this policy.

JCG_20100203_160852_0456What if I’m using my camera phone to build a shopping wish list?  Am I allowed to take a photo of the movies available at the video rental store to send to my family member at home who is helping me pick a title for that night?  Many products now feature a 2D barcode on the packaging and shoppers are encouraged to use their camera phone’s to take photo’s of the code to be redirected to a mobile website for further info (such as the Microsoft Tag on many of it’s mice and keyboards).  Best Buy even puts QR codes (another 2D barcode) on signs in the store and encourages shoppers to use their camera phone to visit a a YouTube video that’s linked to the code.  I asked the BestBuy store manager in this particular store, and he sheepishly admitted that they too have a no photography policy.  Best Buy spends millions of dollars on display fixtures to make sure that shoppers can use all the demo cameras in the store.

I know that hard working retailers are not in love with the idea of their competitors visiting their stores and “borrowing” their best ideas, and I certainly appreciate the sentiment.  But frankly those unscrupulous  competitors are still going to get their shots, with or without a policy.  I would never steal anyone else’s intellectual property, but I do take thousands of retail photos for use in audits, lectures, blogs, etc…  I own a variety of stealthy photography tools, but I rarely bother to use them.  It’s simply not realistic to expect over burdened retail staff to be the camera police, when virtually every shopper that walks in the store has some form of camera or camera phone on them.

Shoppers that want to take photo’s in your store are your best customers!  Quite treating them like they are trying to steal your soul, and embrace the era of the social network.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Fun post Jason! I saw this a lot when I was working in retail in the 80’s with stores in the Santa Monica Place mall, where the Japanese tour busses stopped each day by the droves, put up signs in their stores in both English and Japanese not to take pictures. I saw it a couple weeks ago at the Holister in SOHO when the only comment made to me while I was there, “Sir, no pictures allowed.” Its fairly funny in hindsight.

  2. Whilst I agree about the fun aspect, I worked in a Fashion store (high end) for 14 years. I agree with the “Apple argument”, however, I honestly cannot count the amount of times I caught buyers/rival companies photographing our products just to manufacture/copy them for their own labels. Some were really blatent about it, some were going to extremes of concealing cameras and distracting the staff or taking items to the changing rooms to do it. The buying teams for these trips work to a budget- it is much cheaper to photograph product/details then copy them that way.
    The long term result is lost sales.
    For example if a UK company wants to open a store abroad, trading on their unique attention to detail or brand identity, then find another company doing EXACTLY the same thing…. that would surely affect sales, wouldn’t it?
    Further to that, if the photographer is taking photos just for the reasons you stated, the best course would be to ask the store manager first- just common courtesy. For the record, a fun and professional service would ALWAYS keep me coming back. Nobody really likes being told what to do! Anyways, great article, thanks.

    • I suppose putting up a web store (with lots of quality photos of the clothing, of course) is out of the question, because someone might be able to copy those styles by looking at the website. Quick, someone tell Modcloth that they’ve flirting with disaster. They even encourage their customers to post photos of themselves wearing clothing they bought off the site. The fools! Except… Wonders of wonders! Miracles of miracles! Modcloth is a huge success story. Others try to imitate, but if Modcloth takes down their photos and their customers’ photos because of that, that would be letting their imitators break them – the equivalent of curling up and dying in defeat.

      I’m sure competitors can hire a team of people to buy the clothing, photograph it, then return it. That works on a budget, too. Why don’t stores check out the backstory of everyone who ever buys anything from them before they allow them to buy? Makes about as much sense as stopping all customers from taking photos and assuming all people with cameras are up to no good.

      These days, it’s much more likely they just want to show their facebook friends what they are buying (or thinking about buying). Vapid? Maybe. Is it free publicity that could lead to more customers? You better believe it. Especially if what you’re selling speaks for itself when people see it in pictures.

      The long term result of not allowing photography is lost sales.

      Should people ask first? Possibly. Are customers always going to remember to ask? I’ll go out on a limb and say no (in the grand scheme of things, this is a minor offense considering the many other ways customers might neglect to act with decorum). Do businesses take a chance on mistakenly accusing people of “illicit photography” when they only whipped out their phone to text? Most definitely.

      But hey, who am I to tell anyone how to run their business? Yell at people taking snaps without asking permission, lose current customers and lose easy connections to potential future customers, what do I care?

  3. Thankfully camera phones in general, and the iphone in particular make it easy to take the needed shots in store.

    Much better than the old days of feeling like a criminal with my point & shoot, looking both directions down the aisle before I take a shot.

  4. It is a dilema. It is virtually impossible today to stop people with camera phones from taking pictures in a store and the examples you give for why we should allow it are compelling.

    However there are many reasons why retailers have policys for banning photography or video in their stores. One big one would be the media. A retailer is not going to allow a local news crew to take photo’s or videos in their store without permission. The media is not above sensationalizing a story that could hurt a retailer just to drive their ratings.

    Thats just one reason, I could list many more. Its a valid policy and even though technology has changed I doubt most retailers will change that policy.

  5. This is a tricky subject, especially for my store. I run an artist’s collaborative and we only feature local art and handcrafted gifts. We do not allow photography in our case because our artists work hard to create their pieces. Someone might like a photograph of a cityskyline, and the next thing we know- its all over social media with no credit to the artist and no credit to where someone may be able to purchase the original. Same goes towards paintings or our retail displays. Our artists made their displays, and some even have phone numbers where you can order your own- but some people still find a need to video tape their work so they can replicate it. In the world of art – that is theft.

    • Hi Eddie,

      I agree, you have a more tricky situation and I appreciate the dilemma. It’s easy for me to say, but at this point, if the artists work is going to dramaticly depreciate in value as soon as a photo of the work goes viral, then I’d argue that artist isn’t in a sustainable field. First of all, people with bad intent ARE going to be able to easily steal the work via photograph. It’s simply too easy for a committed person with bad intentions, to sneak a photo. I’d argue “no photography” rules don’t stop the criminals, they only stop honest people. Who might have taken a picture to further consider a future purchase, get approval from a spouse, etc… Artists need to put themselves in a position where if a photo of their art goes viral it’s good for them, not bad for them.

      If you’re worried that the photograph allows the artist to direct rather than through you, then I’d argue you have the wrong relationship with that artist. It’s not a sustainable business if the only reason to buy from you, is that the customer doesn’t know there are better ways to buy.

      In the modern digital era, you need to have a business model where you can thrive in a complete transparent market where the shoppers knows everything there is to know about your industry and your business model, because in most cases they will.

  6. I used to take plenty of pictures in stores. I wasn’t a competitor. Merely an average Joe.

    My intentions were not malicious, but the store’s employees sure thought so. People tend to fear the unknown, and when they don’t know what you’re planning on doing with the picture, they keep a close eye on you.

    If they really don’t want to have people taking pictures in their stores, or places of business, put a sign on the front door.

    If there’s no sign, there’s no policy I’d say. Much like a no parking sign versus having a parking sign. It’s made perfectly clear what is allowed and what isn’t.

    If they claim there is a policy, ask them to cite it exactly where in their corporate manual. That way you’re sure of what they’re saying is the truth, and not just “we have a policy, but we can’t tell you exactly why that is”. It’s “we have this policy, and here is the exact reason why it exists”.

    No shady business, being open and honest with your customers will go a long way.

  7. William Huxtan says

    As a hard rule, I won’t enter stores with a no-photography rule. In such cases the store staff are overly protective of their merchandise so I become equally protective of my money. I’ve even had store owners chastise me for retrieving my mobile from my pocket to read a text message. When that happens I’m too happy to make a big stink on front of other customers, drop whatever I was going to buy, and leave.


  1. […] It’s still not technically permissible for shoppers to take pictures inside a Best Buy store, which makes all this effort seem silly.  If Best Buy has changed this policy they haven’t done a good job of communicating it to the Blue Shirts or even the Store Managers as the ones I spoke with to still all think they aren’t supposed to allow it (NOTE:  Most employees show good judgment by not trying to enforce this rule).  See my previous post on the topic:  Please Don’t Have Fun In Our Store. […]

  2. […] If a retail space bans photography, it's missing out on a chance for shoppers to become brand advocates. Retail Geek said customers like taking pictures in store to ask friends and family for advice, to create a visual shopping list and to share great deals on social media. […]

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