The Internet has become one of the easiest ways to shop for all kinds of things – especially cameras and other electronics. It’s easy to compare prices, features and specs and you can do it from home, in your pajamas. But it’s important to make sure you do your online shopping safely. I get e-mails and see posts on our forums all the time that quote unbelievably low prices found online. Remember the old adage, “if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.” The sad truth is, the Internet is pretty scary place to shop. Besides the much-publicized browser security problems, there are tons of Internet “dealers” whose main business seems to be taking advantage of unsuspecting shoppers.
Here are a couple of classic online rip-off scenarios:
You order a digital camera “package” or “kit” from an online dealer. You get an e-mail or call to inform you that the kit you ordered is out of stock. However, they do have just the camera in stock. The salesperson proceeds to sell you the battery, charger, camera manual and camera strap separately and by the time you’re done you’ve spent $100 more for exactly what you ordered from their Web site. Fact: you can’t buy a digital camera on its own, out of the box. The “kit” is how they come from the factory. If a salesperson tries to tell you otherwise, they’re lying.
You order a lens (or flash or whatever) on the Internet and you get a call or e-mail to let you know that lens is backordered. The salesperson offers to sell you a different lens that is “as good” or maybe even “better” for the same price. This is classic bait-and-switch. It’s also how you can end up spending $400 for a $100 lens.
Ok, let’s get to the meat of this article! I’ve purchased thousands of dollars of gear from online camera dealers and I haven’t had a problem yet. Assuming that means I’m doing something right, here are five simple tips to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of when you buy digital cameras or electronics on the Internet:
Don’t shop by lowest price. Buy for a fair price from a retailer with a good reputation.
If it seems too good to be true, don’t buy it. When someone is selling a $500 camera for $250, something is wrong. Don’t let greed get the better of you. You will either end up paying more than advertised, or you’ll flat get ripped off.
Use online resources to check dealer reputations. Websites like ResellerRatings.com, BizRate.com and BBB.org (Better Business Bureau) are invaluable for researching online camera dealer customer satisfaction. PhotographyREVIEW.com’s own Camera Dealer Feedback Forum is another good place to check up on a dealer you don’t know about. Google is also a good resource – just search a camera dealer’s name and see what comes up.
Buy with a credit card that has purchase protection. That way, if you do end up having problems with an online purchase, you know you’ll be able to get your money back.
Don’t let a dealer sell you something you don’t want. Note the two stories earlier in this article. A salesman trying to sell you something you didn’t order and don’t know about is a bad sign.
Follow those basic rules and you don’t need to worry the next time you buy a camera or lens on the Web. There’s nothing wrong with shopping locally, either. You get to make a face-to-face camera for cash exchange and it’s good to support your local camera dealer. The local brick and mortar camera shop is a great place to test drive equipment, buy stuff you don’t want to wait for, handle warranty issues and get hands-on camera service. Make sure to spend some of your money at the local camera shop so that they’ll be there when you need them.