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 few years ago a good friend found a Canon 7D online 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 to good to be true, it probably is.
I had been pricing the Canon 7D myself and back then it was selling for around $1700 new (body only, no lens) from reputable online stores (it’s around $1300 now). 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 and recommended at my main photography site). 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 $20 or $30 (maybe even more if it is “Gray Market” camera gear), but no one can beat these dealers 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 currently gives SkyPointDigital an overall rating of 0.01 on a scale of 10 (that’s not a misprint, the rating really was less than 1. 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 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.
If you are checking up on a camera store, be sure and read reviews by photographer’s at Photo.net. They are in more than one location so start here, then check out this store list, then this store list, and finally this long list of posts arranged by merchant.
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.
Rule of Thumb Number 4: You won’t go wrong if you stick with the best online merchants. Every merchant messes up once in a while and sends the wrong item, but the reputable merchants will make it right.
And the guarantee isn’t any better than the company behind it. 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 are here. 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.
What about the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA)?
“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.
If you don’t like the quality of your purchase and the merchant refuses to accept your return, 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 if your purchase is over $50 and the merchant is in your home state or within 100 miles of your billing address. 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. This is not formal legal advice, so if you have been ripped off you should consult an attorney.
To get more details, read these two articles.