NikonUSA’s Free Initiative — What We Know


Before I get to the survey results portion of the article, let’s recap what happened last week:

  1. NikonUSA surprisingly sent out emails to a large number of Nikon DSLR owners offering them a free inspection and cleaning of their camera, including shipping both directions, plus an online survey of their satisfaction with Nikon service.
  2. The conspiracy and other theories started almost immediately, as it was discovered that those receiving the invitation were mostly early serial number D800/D800E bodies, plus a handful of D7100 and D700 models.
  3. I started a survey that mimicked the survey that Nikon was using, and which added a few items to try to get to the bottom of a few questions.
  4. Other sites such as Nikon Rumors reported some additional rumored data, such as 4300 D800/D800E owners and 100 D700 and 100 D7100 owners received the survey.
  5. Nikon subsidiaries began informing others outside the US that this was a “NikonUSA marketing effort” and NikonUSA responded to those in the US who asked if they could be included in the initiative with "The Service Incentive is not based on serial numbers. The customers were chosen through a random drawing. If you have not received a notification for you to send in your product the you do not qualify for the incentive.

Now let’s move on to the survey I took last week. 

As I suspected from the early emails, my survey showed that the highest reported D800 serial number was around 16,000, with virtually all being under 11,000. That would put all of the D800 bodies for this “initiative” pretty much within the first two shipments that were sent to the US and prior to Photokina 2012, when Nikon finally acknowledged there might be a focus issue with the D800. Make of that what you will. But I can find no record of any D800/D800E owner that received the email whose camera was manufactured after Nikon deployed the new focus test system to the subsidiaries. 

In terms of D700’s, the serial numbers I received were all late model D700s. The D7100 model serial numbers were over quite a large spread. All these cameras share the same 51-point focus system, and the late D700 serial numbers would probably have been assembled just prior to the changeover of the Sendai plant to D4 and the D800 production. 

These clues seem to point to something other than a “marketing program.” Unless by that Nikon means “product marketing is trying to figure out how many cameras were affected by a problem or how early D800’s fared after several years of use.” 

NikonUSA claims it was a random program. Indeed, from the surveys and emails I can tell that some with multiple D800 bodies in that serial number range only received an email specific to a single camera. I have many reports of people in the serial number range who registered their cameras that didn’t receive an email, as well. Moreover, it didn’t matter whether your were a member of Nikon Professional Services (NPS) or not, which seems to validate the “random” notion. 

I originally postulated that these were all previously repaired D800’s that were being targeted. This was based upon information in the first dozen or so emails I received about the initiative. However, the survey presents an interesting twist on that. Within 0.7% the survey says that the targeted D800’s were half and half. Half had been to NikonUSA for previous servicing, half had not. While that could be a random statistic (I don’t have enough data to speak to statistical significance with a good level of probability), it’s more than curious that it is so close to 50/50.   

Here’s another interesting stat. When I asked if the people who got the email from NikonUSA were going to accept Nikon’s offer, I got this from the D800 group:

bythom survey1

That’s a pretty high number of folk who had disposed of their D800; remember, I said it was the best all-around DSLR in 2012 and 2013. However, also remember that from previous surveys we know that a lot of D800 owners upgraded to a D810 when it came out (as did I). Still, for such a high-end, high performance camera, that’s a lot of disposal in a very short time. 

I’d say that the survey supports the numbers that Nikon Rumors reported: the initiative mostly targeted D800 owners, and early ones at that. 

Nikon asked those receiving the email to respond to a survey about Nikon service. In my survey I mimicked Nikon’s questions, but opened this up to all Nikon DSLR owners. With over 2300 responses from them, this is what you said:

  • 46% of you have had a Nikon DSLR serviced
  • Of that 69% were serviced by NikonUSA, 2.4% by unauthorized repair shops, and the remainder by Nikon authorized repair shops

Here are the responses to specific questions about the repair.

How long did it take?

bythom survey2

The bad news? When we filter for just those cameras serviced by Nikon themselves, the time periods skew slightly longer, and 2 to 3 days now looks mostly like an exception:

bythom survey3

More bad news for Nikon’s own service:

bythom survey4

Now as it turns out, I’ve surveyed that last question twice in the past, the last time in 2009. I had more possible answers in that survey, but the results are pretty comparable:

bythom survey5

The very best possible interpretation of my data (now in three polls that have over 15,000 responses) is that you stand just better than a 4 in 5 chance that Nikon will fix your camera correctly the first time, and that hasn’t really changed much in the 10 years I’ve been asking this question. If it has changed, it’s drifted towards worse.

Let’s get back to my latest survey.

How satisfied were people with how long it took to fix their camera?

bythom survey6

How satisfied were people with the actual repair work that was performed on their DSLR?

bythom survey7

Was the cost of the repair reasonable? Yes got 84%, No was at 16%.

Some of you were worried about the very last question I asked in the survey, as you felt it might be interpreted as about service instead of about Nikon overall. I invite you to go back to the graph just above and compare it to the next one ;~).

How satisfied are people with Nikon in general? This is what you reported:

bythom survey9

No, you didn’t confuse the two questions at all: you answered them differently. You’re actually reasonably satisfied with Nikons repairs, just not Nikon overall. This didn’t matter whether you were in the US or some other region as it turned out. 

Perhaps another filter will help us understand something. Let’s look just at those that were offered the free initiative:

bythom survey10

As you might expect from being given a freebie, this group is somewhat more satisfied. But this raises an interesting point. NikonUSA apparently held a lottery for mostly early D800/D800E owners. Those that didn’t win the lottery aren’t so happy. Here are just a few excerpts from emails that I got in response to the initiative:

  • "Does this mean they don't value my business? Unless they clarify why they're offering free maintenance to only a select few, I can only conclude they don’t.
  • "At this point, I do not trust Nikon at all and I have been using Nikon gear since 1989.
  • "NPS, I’m letting that lapse when it’s time to renew. NPS isn’t what it used to be.
  • “Even though I am a long time Nikon user, my response to Nikon is with complete cynicism."

Now a lot of this is just venting. No one likes to be the loser, even in a lottery with long odds, and the Internet is an easy place to vent. But scroll back up two charts to what you think about Nikon in general. That’s a pretty high level of dissatisfaction for a major company. Yet Nikon keeps managing to do things that trigger some level of dissatisfaction in subsets of their customer base. The Extremely and Very Satisfied don’t hit 30%, when they should probably be well over 50%. 

As someone who relies upon Nikon gear for my shooting, I’m more than a little worried when I see statistics like that, as it says something about Nikon’s future strength in being able to put out innovative and excellent products. 

If you build it, they don’t always come, after all.

So. NikonUSA wanted to see early D800/D800E models or reward a subset of those purchasers for some undisclosed reason. That’s what we know. It makes no sense to me as a “marketing campaign.” 

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