Shutterfly vs. Prism Digital Imaging

I reported earlier in this space about my experience ordering prints of digital photos from Shutterfly. At the time, I promised to compare their services to our local provider of digital prints, Prism Digital Imaging. And so I did.

The table below summarizes the process of ordering an 8x10 print from a digital picture taken with my Canon Powershot S100 camera. I uploaded the digital image to each website’s ordering system, and ordered exactly the same thing.

  Shutterfly Prism
Date Ordered 11/15/2001 11/23/2001
Date Arrived 11/23/2001 11/29/2001
Days to Arrive 8 6
Miles Travelled 3733 3
Product Cost* $6.26 $4.99
Shipping* $4.69 $1.00
Total Cost w/tax* $10.95 $7.05
* Prices adjusted to Canadian dollars.

The presentation and packaging of the Shutterfly print was the better of the two: my print came in a sturdy cardboard mailer with a well-designed receipt, an index print and the photo well-protected and in perfect condition. Prism Digital Imaging’s print arrived in a brown manila envelope with the photo encased in a plastic bag with a cardboard backer; their photo had a small crease in one corner, and the invoice was a black and white print from their website (with a confusing notation “Execution time: 216 ms”).

It’s difficult to compare the quality of the two photos, as the Shutterfly print was on glossy paper and the Prism Digital Imaging was on matte paper (I didn’t appear to have the ability to request paper type on either website). Aesthetically the Shutterfly print has more “snap,” but that’s mostly because it’s on glossy paper. Generally I’d have no complaints about the print quality in either case.

While the Prism Digital Imaging website is very well done, and easy to use, it doesn’t have the maturity or flexibility of Shutterfly’s. For example, on the Shutterfly site I can view my complete account history — what I ordered, when it was shipped, etc. — whereas on the Prism Digital Imaging I cannot. The Shutterfly site also has allowances to connect easily to third-party sites. You can, for example, connect your own home-brew photo gallery to their system for print ordering; the Prism Digital Imaging doesn’t have allowances for this. Perhaps these sorts of feature will come in time as the Prism site matures.

In the end, I’d have to call this a draw. Other than the positive benefits of supporting a local business, Prism Digital Imaging doesn’t offer anything more than Shutterfly in terms of delivery speed or quality. Their pricing is slightly better, but then Shutterfly’s customer experience is slightly better. I’ll continue to experiment with both in the days and prints to come.


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on November 29, 2001 - 22:04 Permalink

I’m obviously biased, but I would have to call a “draw” between a small local company and a huge hyper-global-mega-corp a big victory for the little guy.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 30, 2001 - 03:39 Permalink

That a small local company, unencumbered by gazillions of orders and a complicated global logistics system takes 6 days to make and deliver one photo print 3 miles means that they are not distinguishing themselves from the pack. Small, local businesses need to be better than large multi-national conglomerates because it’s only through word of mouth that their businesses are going to survive, and word of mouth requires “wow!” service. My part of this process — uploading the file to the website — took about 4 minutes; being generous and assuming that the printing and packaging process took an hour, that means that my print spent 143 hours doing nothing but waiting around in their ether. That’s not wow! — that’s simply acceptable.