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Not All Camera Store Bargains are Good Deals

With so many camera retailers out there these days, competition for your dollar can be fierce. To entice buyers, sellers try all sorts of things.

Sometimes sellers are willing to accept a lower profit margin, attempting to make up for lost revenue through volume alone. If they make a few bucks less on each sale but sell a heck of a lot more units, they could still come out ahead. That's the theory at least.

In the early days of internet e-commerce, brick and mortar camera stores started disappearing. Companies were increasingly able to replace sales floors and showrooms with more densely packed warehouses, and salespeople with warehouse workers that no longer needed to take time out to talk to their customers. Of course these days, everybody is selling online. Whatever savings there were in lowering real estate and labor costs have already been realized. Whether a retailer still maintains a degree of physical presence of not, selling online has turned from being a competitive advantage into a requirement just to keep up. Gone are the days when you could save money simply by buying online.

Some retailers attempt to cut their expenses to the bone and then pass the savings on to us consumers. Sure does sound good, but even if it once was, those days are gone. Companies big and small are trying to cut expenses. And there's only so much that can be cut legitimately. And if a deal seems too good to be true, it might not be good at all. Retailers that take a loss for too long go out of business. Some that stick it out do so through means not always above board.

You might end up pressured into buying more than you planned. You might want to limit your budget but become convinced to go with the next model up after listening to repeated pitches from a salesman. Even online, websites will happily suggest you consider upsizing. If the one you wanted to buy is good, surely the next model up is even better. This may well incidentally be true, but not if you can't afford it. Car salesmen notoriously have been doing likewise for many years, but it's become more common in other areas too. Be honest with yourself on what you can afford, and don't feel pressured to spend more unless you've given it some serious thought. In any event, don't do it merely on the word of some random salesman.

Many years ago in search of a bargain, I bought a number of filters from a retailer who advertised their discount prices heavily. I figured that if it was the real thing, it didn't matter where I bought it. After charging the total order to my credit card, they shipped just a single item, declaring everything else as back-ordered. Months went by during which I would periodically ask or complain about the situation, cajoling them periodically to ship one more item. They repeatedly assured me they were doing the best they could and everything else would soon ship as well. Some filters I did get looked to have been seconds or old shopworn stock, giving me yet another reason to complain and ask further. Eventually, I had to cancel the balance and request a refund, another process that took far more time than it should have.

In hindsight, they were just stringing me along. I doubt they were earning their living off the bank interest from holding my funds while dragging out the delivery. More likely they were advertising goods they didn't have in inventory and were hoping to stay one step ahead of their creditors. If they listed only what they actually had, the shelves would appear obviously bare, discouraging anyone from shopping there. Remarkably, they didn't go out of business for several years after my experience. The jig had to be up at some point. All they had to do was continue finding new customers in search of a bargain.

But for all the bad retailers out there, there are also good ones. Find a company you trust, and reward them with your business. If you don't know who to trust, ask around, or search online. Google can point you to a companies website, but it can also help you find reviews and recommendations. If enough people have problems with a certain company, you find them complaining online somewhere.

If you appreciate good customer service and knowledgeable staff, consider supporting a local retailer. Most major metro areas have at least one reputable dealer where you can go to see new gear up close and personal. You may even find employees familiar with what they carry who can fairly answer questions. If you rely on their experience, realize it has value, and expect to pay fairly for. And surprisingly, their prices may not be too far above others, anyway. Manufacturers often prohibit retailers from advertising major items below a minimum price. Certain items can cost about the same everywhere. Worth a check, anyway.

Photo retailers often make the bulk of their profits, not on cameras and lenses, but on the various accessories they convince us we need. Think of this as somewhat akin to the fast-food cashier asking if you want fries with your order. Anything profit they can make from an item you wouldn't otherwise buy is money they wouldn't otherwise have earned. Maybe that new lens clearer is better than what you've been using. Probably not.

Some online retailers offer "gray market" items in addition to the US warrantied versions. Generally, these are the exact same items, but come with reduced or no warranties, allowing them to be sold at a lower cost. Most such offerings are completely legal, even if frowned upon by the licensed importers. Before you buy one, make sure you are OK with the warranty situation. You probably won't need one anyway, but you just might. Exact details on any gray market listings should be posted. You should probably shop elsewhere if not. Remember, there are always other options for where to shop.

Everybody loves a bargain. But when shopping for camera gear, not all bargains are good deals.

Date posted: February 16, 2020


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Shopping for Camera Gear: Is It Safe to Buy Online?
What is a Gray Market Lens?

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