NikonUSA Changes NPS

Nikon Professional Services (NPS) members late yesterday received an email announcing changes to the NPS program in the United States. Whereas the program used to be entirely free, now we have one free and two paid tiers to the program. 

In some ways, the program is simpler, but in the details are some strange idiosyncrasies of what gear does and doesn't qualify you for the program now.

The free "Pro" program—still only for professional photographers who qualify and get past the gatekeeper—requires you to have at least two Nikon bodies and two Nikkor lenses. The primary changes to the free program are that you no longer can get free loaner equipment and you don't get repair discounts. The US$149 "Pro+" program adds equipment loans (up to 5 items), free checking and cleaning (3 times), a 20% repair service discount, and overnight delivery on repairs. The US$299 "Platinum" program ups the number of loans (10) and check/cleans (5), and increases the repair discount to 25%.

As many of you are aware, I've long advocated that Nikon move to a paid program (Canon and others already did). In theory, this would allow us to speak with our wallets, among other things. Virtually every professional photographer understands costs and value. The old NPS program had no cost, but it returned very questionable value. 

I'm not sure that the new program is tuned correctly. NPS Priority Purchase (PP) is still part of the free program. It probably shouldn't be, as it distorts distribution of product too severely at times. Personally, I would have put PP in the Platinum category, or limited Priority Purchase to some very specific items as well as the number of times you can use it for free.

Early reaction is mixed if I'm reading my emails, direct messages, and Internet posts correctly. My position is this: you were getting something for free, now you might not be getting that (loaners and repair discounts, both of which have costs to NikonUSA). The question you have to ask yourself now is whether you get something of value (services) for value (cost). This allows us to vote with our wallets, basically. Thus, my advice is simple: if you don't think the Pro+ or Platinum tier offers enough value for the cost, don't join it. 

But my advice to Nikon still stands: NPS really doesn't need the P, it should really just be Nikon Services, available to all. And it could be more nuanced and differentiated in the tiers, with the top tiers not only paid but only open to clear professionals. 

Finally, there's this: NikonUSA waited until renewals were due before announcing the changes. Actually, renewals were supposed to happen in December, but got postponed while NikonUSA sorted out the details. Thus, the first that members heard of the changes was in an email to them announcing the changes and telling them to renew. Once again class, what is marketing? Marketing is managing expectations. No expectations were managed here. Just another "here it is, take it or leave it" from Nikon. That's not embracing customers, and in this case, key customers. So while I don't at all mind the changes to the program, I do mind the way it was handled. 

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Update: as more responses came in, I decided that there were a few more things I wanted to say.

Here are the things Nikon still needs to improve:

  • The qualification process is still opaque. Obviously, with expedited repairs and cut-in-line Priority Purchase, just letting anyone into the program—particularly when those things are free—would be problematic. But it's still unclear who really qualifies as a "professional" or not, and how you get past that gate. 
  • While NPS has long provided "loaners," that process is even more opaque. I know some who got a loaner while others who asked for the same lens were told that that lens wasn't even in the loan pool. It's totally unclear what's in the loaner pool. Moreover, at times the pool gets tied up by a few selected and privileged workshops (how's that work?). I'd prefer that Nikon just publish what's in the pool and each item's availability status via a Web database accessible by NPS members. If someone abuses the loaner pool—and I've heard plenty of examples of that, too—just revoke their NPS status. 
  • One of the "perks" is a "dedicated NPS Representative." Do you know who yours is, and have they ever reached out to you? Didn't think so. My understanding is that this is basically really "regional NPS staff assignments." Given that NPS staffing has been cut back in recent years, I'm also not sure that there's enough remaining staff to serve us if we really need help.
  • Likewise, "member-only webinars, product launch events, and virtual meetups" isn't something that I don't recall ever being invited to, so either this is new or it's the usual NikonUSA "if you know about it you're in" sort of perk. 

In other words, while Nikon has categorized a bunch of perks, many of these are all opaque, vague, or completely unspecified (what's a "premium welcome gift"?). Now that Nikon's asking for money, all of us are going to be looking at what we actually received when December 2021 comes rolling around and NikonUSA wants us to charge our credit cards again. I suspect that NikonUSA is going to find that a lot of cameras come in for free cleans and checks in late 2021 as NPS members realize that they haven't gotten US$149 or US$299 of value back. 

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