Is it a great deal? Or is it a rip-off? You are searching online for a good price and you come across a terrific deal. Are you about to get burned? There are ways you can tell.
A cautionary tale. A good friend was pricing a Canon DSLR online. The price at most places was around $1700 but he found it for $879 at SkyPointDigital. I didn’t know anything about the company, but at that price, something had to be very wrong. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
I urged my friend not to order it. When he asked why, I told him a price that low (hundreds of dollars less than the most reputable online dealers) raises all kinds of red flags, and I gave him my rules of thumb.
Rule of Thumb Number 1: When buying photographic equipment, check the prices at Amazon.com, Adorama, and B&H Photo (all three are linked below). If an item is selling for significantly less than at these three companies, something is downright suspicious. You might find a reputable dealer who can save you $10 or $20 or $30 (maybe more if it is “Gray Market” camera gear, but that has a lot of risks involved, see the article linked below), but no one can beat B&H, Adorama, and Amazon by a lot if they are selling new gear with a U.S. warranty.
I went home and Googled SkyPointDigital, and came up with a lot of news, all of it bad. ResellerRatings.com had a collection of really bad reviews. ResellerRatings gave SkyPointDigital an overall rating of 1.0 on a scale of 10 (10 being the highest). I found several other web sites that had warnings about SkyPointDigital. It is not surprising that SkyPointDigital seems to have gone out of business (or maybe they just opened up again with a different name) but that is small comfort to people who got ripped off and didn’t get their money back.
Note: If you pay too much for an inferior or low quality item and the merchant refuses to accept your return, you are not necessarily guaranteed a refund of your money by your credit card company. See the last section below.
Rule of Thumb Number 2: Do some internet research. Keep in mind that even the best dealers will receive an occasional bad review, but avoid any merchant that has mostly bad reviews.
Check out any kind of store at ResellerRatings.com.
Rule of Thumb Number 3: Don’t fall for a bait and switch tactic, and don’t get sucked in to add-ons you don’t need.
A student in one of my classes found a zoom lens at a questionable dealer at a price that was $160 less than the price at Adorama and B&H. When he told me about his bargain, I tried to talk him out of it (rule of thumb number 1), but he succumbed to the lure of a great price. He also ordered a couple of “name brand” filters that were half price. He got them both for, you guessed it, about $160.
When he showed up at class the next week, he was disappointed. His “name brand” filters weren’t by any of the respected filter manufacturers like B+W, Singh-Ray, Heliopan, Hoya, Tiffen, or Cokin. They were a brand name he had never heard of (but technically a “name brand”) and the optical quality was so poor and the distortion so bad that he couldn’t focus the lens with either filter in place. The filters were useless. He spent $160 on worthless pieces of glass. And the lens came without a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty (read my gray market article). If anything went wrong with the lens the manufacturer wouldn’t repair it (because it was a gray market purchase) so he was supposed to send it back to the shady dealer where he bought it and they would send it to a repair shop of their choosing. Good luck with that.
When he called the dealer to complain, they refused to take back the lens and filters for a refund. They would exchange the lens for one with a U.S. warranty if he paid them more money (making the final price even higher than the price at a reputable dealer), and they would only exchange his filters for a brand of his choosing for a LOT more money. He would have been better off going with a reputable dealer in the first place. He said their “Satisfaction Guarantee” must have meant THEIR satisfaction, not the customer’s.
And the story gets worse. Read The Credit Card Protection Fantasy, below.
Rule of Thumb Number 4: You won’t go wrong if you stick with the very best online merchants. Every merchant messes up once in a while and sends the wrong item, but the reputable merchants will make it right.
The guarantee you read online isn’t any better than the company behind it, as my friend found out. I buy new camera gear from Amazon.com, and I buy new and used camera gear from Adorama, B&H Photo, and KEH Camera. I’ve never been burned by one of these first rate dealers. Links below. You can also buy camera gear at my photography store which is powered by Amazon.com with Amazon’s great prices, terrific service, and excellent guarantee.
The Credit Card Protection Fantasy
It happens all the time. Someone buys an item at a great price from an online company. When the item arrives it turns out to be very low quality (read my friends story above). The merchant refuses to refund the money. The customer calls the credit card company and the credit card company refuses to refund the money. Is it legal for the credit card company to do that? Yes it is.
But what about the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA)?
For you as a customer, this is important.
“The FCBA credit card dispute rules and rights do not apply if you are disputing the quality of goods and services”.
People get burned all the time and they do not get their money back from their credit card company because it was a “quality of goods” issue. And this isn’t just about photography gear. This is about anything you buy on the internet.
If you don’t like the quality of your purchase and the merchant refuses to accept your return and refund your money, you are not necessarily guaranteed you will get your money back. You will get your money back if your credit card company offers “Return Protection” and you have opted in to that protection or if the company automatically opted you in (read the fine print on your credit card agreement).
When a merchant won’t refund your money, you can take legal action against your credit card company over “quality” issues, but only if your purchase is over $50 and the merchant is in your home state or within 100 miles of your billing address.
Here’s the word, directly from the Federal Trade Commission web site. Even if you are lucky enough that the store is within those limits of your home, the legal fees may be more than the money you lost on your purchase. If you have been ripped off you should consult an attorney.
For more information, read the articles linked below.
So your best protection goes back to rule of thumb number 4, stick with the very best online merchants.
Disputing Credit Card Charges – Federal Trade Commission
Store.JimDoty.com – My Amazon powered photography store. You get Amazon’s great prices, fast service, and excellent guarantee.
Buyer’s Guide Series
This is one in a series of articles that will guide you to the best of all things photographic. The rest are here: Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs and More.