I’ve been using Bay Photo Labs for most of my lab printing for years and I’ve always been happy with them and their work. The one time they had a mistake in an order (I got someone else’s images and I hope they enjoyed mine) they reprinted and resent both orders right away based on my report.

And so it’s with a lot of regret that I have to report that I’ve used them for the last time, because they messed up badly over the holidays in a way I just can’t ignore, and while I hate having to write this kind of review, I feel it’s needed so that others are aware of it in case it changes their mind on using them in the future.

I did a few special projects over the holidays. One of them was a custom print I created of some artwork my mother had done over the years — about 15 years of hand-painted Christmas cards she sent out to good friends (think about that for a minute: that’s 15 years by 50 cards, each individually printed). When I went through her things I saved copies of every one I could find, and this fall I scanned them in, cleaned them up and collected them into a collage that I sent out to Bay Photo to print, frame and send to my sister for Christmas.

I submitted this to Bay Photo on December 5. The original predicted ship date was the 12th. On the 20th, I contacted them to find out what was going on. A day later they responded to let me know it was still in production and would ship as soon as possible; they offered to upgrade to free overnight shipping.

And then I waited. Christmas passed. New Years passed. It shipped almost exactly a month after I ordered it and three weeks later than the original projection.

For the record, my sister says its gorgeous. Typical quality work from them.

Unfortunately, they handled the delay badly, and that’s why I won’t use them again.

Other than the response to my support request, I got no communication from them. No notification there was a delay, no updates with a new ship date, nothing. Silence.

I wasn’t alone. I know one other photographer in the same boat, their order didn’t ship before Christmas, either.

Curious, I went looking and on both the facebook page and their twitter feed, no word of the problems, but they continued to market their work for the holiday and issue coupons, one of which I noticed was for the product I was waiting for. Most of those had comments attached from people asking why their order hadn’t shipped, followed by a poor support person trying to politely say variations of “I have absolutely no clue”.

I could forgive them for sitting down in a production meeting one morning and realizing they’d taken on too much work and they were screwed. I could forgive them if a machine went down and they lost a few days of production time while it was repaired. I’m not upset at them because the order shipped late.

I’m upset at them because they communicated it so badly. No, seriously: they didn’t communicate the problem at all. And to me, that’s a fatal failure. Will my next order with them ship on time? I have no idea. Will I know if it’s going to be delayed? No, I won’t, because they don’t tell me if they realize they’re going to miss their dates.

This was a present for my sister. That’s mildly annoying, but it happens that it was late. But what if this was an order for a paying client? How am I going to explain to them my vendor is going to miss the dates I promised them (because my vendor promised me), and that I have no idea when it might ship? And when that order misses Christmas for my client? That’s death for me with them, right?

And then seeing they were continuing to market coupons and promote themselves when I knew existing orders were already going to miss Christmas? Their poor communications make it impossible for me to use them again. I can no longer trust the dates they give me. I won’t get notified if there’s a delay, so I can’t make other arrangements or at least warn MY clients.

Their poor disaster management here makes them unusable for me, because I can’t trust them to not cost me future business by not keeping me informed when they don’t meet their dates with me.

So I have to find a new lab for my work. The delays may or may not have been avoidable if they’d kept a better eye on their orders and capacity, but the way they handled it makes it impossible for me to use them again, because I can’t trust them to keep their word to me. And that makes the quality of their work irrelevant.

And that’s too bad. But I can’t forgive how they didn’t keep me, or as far as I can tell, anyone else, in the loop, and it seems a lot of Christmas presents arrived late because of them.