Buying Gear Online? Read This First.
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19th October 2016, Singapore – With Christmas 2016 creeping up slowly, many of you will be buying gifts for your photographer friends, or for yourself etc. In today’s shopping trend, many of you would have turned to online shopping sites and browsing for items and comparing prices while some of you will be purchasing online already. I have decided to write this article at the requests of several photographers & even merchants from our network to share the unseen side of online shopping.
Before I proceed, I would like to disclaim myself that this article is not to cast a shadow on online shopping but to present all the possible risks, potential losses and things that you will never expect that will really happen. It’s a wild world out there and sometimes wilder in the cyber world which we call the Internet.
With permission, I had spoken to a few photographers who regularly purchase gear from online plus inputs from feedback received from some of our merchants. I have put together 05 case studies here including one that is of my own personal experience from shopping gear online. Please read carefully as I do not wish anyone of you to fall prey or become a willing victim one day. You have been warned.
*Important Disclaimer: All names had been changed to protect the identity of the individuals. Any similarity of incident or reference to anyone, alive or dead, are purely incidental and coincidental.
Case Study #01 – Paid, Item Never Came.
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Alex had been calling up local camera shops and comparing the prices of a particular camera that he is interested in purchasing. After calling every camera shops that he knows, he decided to search online alternative as he have heard from his peers that buying online can be cheaper. He searched through a few reputable online shopping sites and even auctions sites. Finally he found an online shop that sells the camera that he so badly wanted that sells cheaper than all the prices that he had came across. The savings, he calculated including shipping – he saves about SGD $200.00. Without giving a 2nd thought, he click “Buy” and paid with his credit card. (No, he doesn’t have a PayPal account). He received an email confirming his payment and the email provided a date for the estimated delivery of his new camera. Everything seems legit and with a peace of mind (the confirmation email), he eagerly waited for his new camera to arrive.
3 weeks later, he got a little restless as his new camera had not been delivered. He went back to the online site, found the online store had been removed. He panicked. He remembered the confirmation email and decided to write to the seller. The seller did replied and informed him that his camera had been shipped and the online store was going through a revamp – assuring Alex that his camera will arrive soon.
1 week later, no camera came, Alex decided not to email but call the number of the seller as stated on the email – the number was a dead line. He emailed the seller again, his email bounced. He tried to contact the online site admin to report this seller, but the online site admin replied Alex that they have no way to trace back an online store who had closed (b*llshit) and they do not know how many persons are managing the account.
It is at this time that Alex realized that he had been cheated. Thinking that he could saved SGD $200.00 for a camera that he love, but instead got cheated of SGD $2,480.19 & gotten a life lesson that he will never forget.
Editor’s Note: Alex’s incident is one of the many cases that gets reported on a daily basis. There are certainly many reputable and trusted online shopping sites, but there are just as many scam sites/ sellers lurking out there too. A simple advice will be to check the ratings of the seller, research a bit on the stores or even google for reviews since many of us takes to complimenting or complaining online – I am sure you will find some materials to read up. And for trying to save SGD $200.00 Alex lost SGD $2,480.19 – is that even worth the risk? You decide.
Case Study #02 – Wrong Item Delivered.
Image Courtesy of AL Memes.
John was shopping online for a DSLR lens. He was browsing on several sites and finally decided to buy from an online shop. He carefully selected the Item, checked on all the right boxes, selected his shipping option, confirmed his address and finally paid. He received a confirmation email with information of his purchase and happily, John waited for his new lens to arrive. Little known to John, his nightmare was about to start.
5 days later, a parcel arrived at his door. He was excited and happy. New lens are always a joy to photographers. After carefully removing the shipping tags and package, he excitement turned into disappointment. He ordered a premium 70-300mm lens which he paid SGD $580 for, but the lens that came was the cheap version that cost a mere SGD $299.00 based on MSRP. He contacted the seller immediately via messaging, the seller retorted that that was the correct lens that he ordered and paid for.
John was shocked at the attitude of the seller and apparently this seller is not very helpful. He swung into action by sending the seller the 2 different specs of the 2 similar focal range zoom lenses and even clearly stated the item/ product name that he had clicked on. The seller continued to deny any responsibility. Dangerously angered and feeling cheated, John threatens the seller if the wrongly-sent lens is not changed to the lens that he initially ordered, he will post all over social media about his purchase and threatens to smear the seller’s reputation. He also informed the seller that he flies to Hong Kong regularly and he will hunt the seller down or even get his Hong Kong “friends” to find this seller.
The seller at this point is definitely not going to have an angry Singaporean man knocking on his door while eating his Dim Sum at Temple Street (Hong Kong), the seller offers to change the lens. But John must ship the wrong lens back to him at John’s cost. John agreed. The correct lens eventually came via Fedex 2 weeks. Consider the initial savings, John gotten the wrong lens, got angry & disappointed, waited for weeks and even have to cough up the shipping costs to return the wrong lens. When added the costs together, it costed about the same if John had just visit any of Singapore’s camera shops and buy off the shelves – minus the anger, weeks of waiting & a nasty experience to remember for life.
Editor’s Note: John’s account & experience is not uncommon. Some of the online shops or sellers are dedicated E-businesses and it is common that during packing & shipping, things like this are bound to happen. However, in the online shopping world, one must understand that if a wrong item is shipped to you, and you are going to reject the item, most of the time, the seller will require you to ship the wrong item back so that they may send you the right one – however at your cost. Now, let me rub a little salt, what if they (again) send you the wrong item again? Or in extreme cases the seller/shop simply denies all responsibility? Now with a little common sense in place, wouldn’t it be better for you to just go to the retailers, ask to try the lens, test it & purchase it? Not forgetting the warranty that comes it. (Some brands denies warranty if the unit/ item is not purchased from Singapore – do not forget everything comes with a serial number & a bar code. (more on this at #05)
Case Study #03 – Damaged Item Delivered.
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Emily was thrilled when she heard that her photography friends bought a DSLR & a Lens online with a sizable discount. Out of curiosity, she went to the same site and browse. Indeed some of the prices are marginally cheaper, but the offer of a cheaper combined shipping means if she is to maximize the deal and buy a few item at the same time, the savings works out to about SGD $300.00 cheaper. So she decided to continue shopping.
During check-out, she had 01 DSLR, 01 Compact Camera & 02 lenses on her shopping list which she paid for the items with her credit card.
A parcel came 7 days later. Emily was excited that her new gears have arrived. Happily & carefully she remove the shipping tags and tapes then opening the shipping box. She received a rude shock. There were glass bits everywhere, the seller/shop had simply placed all her items – loose – into the shipping box without the original boxes. Everything was in a mess, both her lenses were badly scratched with the lens cap off, charging cables and sockets had also partially destroyed the LCD Screen of the DSLR and it was a photographer’s nightmare. Emily broke down crying. When she finally calm down, she wrote to seller/ shop and question about the shipping packing standards and even sent images of the broken items in the box.
The seller/shop brushed all responsibilities citing that she had picked “Standard International Shipping” without insurance and additional packing options. Emily was shocked! She went on to check her email for the purchase confirmation, indeed, she had forgotten to click on the options for packing, which gave the seller/ shop the rights to remove all the original boxes and packages and pack everything together to save spaces & on shipping costs! To save SGD $300.00, this expensive and painful lesson had cost Emily SGD $3,800.00 and she have to spend addition money close to SGD $700 to have her 2 lenses repaired, replace the LCD screen on the DSLR.
Editor’s Note: It is common for online sellers and for some online shops to mark-up the shipping costs charged to the buyers and also they will try to save as much money as possible for the shipping packaging. I’ve met some really cool sellers that will take the effort to pack my purchase nicely and properly protect the item while I have also encountered some really irresponsible ones. Just imagine you receiving a camera from Russia without a bubble-wrap and a half-empty box. And of course, the camera that I bought was damaged during the shipping process. For the rest of you, if you are buying something online, when it comes to the shipping part, open your eyes and read carefully, and if several options are available, read them carefully too. Although most of the online sellers / shops does exercise common sense when it comes to item packaging for shipping, I must warn you there are some idiots out there who doesn’t have common sense. Worth the risk?
Case Study #04 – Too Good to be True.
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We have all heard of this famous saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
Yet among us there are still people who falls for scams using the above as a base for deceit. Anna was browsing online for a travel camera, she was comparing the prices stated on the brand/ manufacturer’s website against the prices published on the other reputable online electronic stores. She saw that the price was somewhat close and she was not impressed.
Anna decided to google for the camera that she wanted and something caught her attention from the search results. An online seller was selling the same camera for just half the price! Anna was really excited, while thinking to herself that her effort in searching for a better deal online had finally paid off when she found someone selling a NEW unit for just half the price of what every other shops are selling! So Anna started to make contact with this seller.
The conversation went on fine with Anna asking about the authenticity of the camera, shipping process etc. And Anna was convinced that this camera that she will be buying is new and the source of the camera was this is showroom unit thus the huge discount. Greed kicks in – since Anna only need to pay half price for this camera, why not buy 2? So she can give one of the camera to her friend whom is her travel buddy. Next day, She paid for 2 cameras via her credit card via a portal and waited for the delivery which the seller promised to ship to her within 14 days.
At this point, I am sure all of you know the outcome. No cameras came, all attempts to communicate with the seller failed and the portal who had facilitated the sale denies responsibility. Anna immediately called her Credit Card company however, the amount had been credited ( thus the 14 days) and if she is to dispute the purchase, she must produce evidence, however the email from the “seller” stated that Anna had agreed to the terms on the sales contract and no refund or whatsoever after 7 days of the purchase. In this case, Anna has not rights to dispute the sale unless that item delivered was wrong – but no cameras came. Anna also made a Police Report, but was later told my friends that the Police cannot really do much as the seller is not based in Singapore – and she willingly make the payment – ouch.
So instead of just making a trip to our local camera stores and buy off the shop, she decided to outsmart the pricing system in Singapore by trying to buy online. And her greed feeds her gullible mind that she is getting a super deal as she can pay the price of one camera but gets away with two cameras! Anna’s losses amounted to SGD $980+ (02 cameras + shipping + insurance) and the local camera shops are selling the camera at SGD $499.00 – Anna agreed for me to share this as she wish for no one to get scammed while buying camera gear online.
Editor’s Note: People are Gullible, this is true. People are Greedy, this is also true. And the 2 mentioned points formed a useful sales tool for Scammers preying on such online buyers. People, all photography gear comes with a base cost from the manufacturer, which then got distributed to a network with many exchange of hands before the camera/ lenses reached the retail front. This network feeds the whole photography industry so price wise, you must understand gear are not cheap. So if someone is trying to sell you a camera for $299 that worth (for example) $999 – you should be sounding the alarm for we all know that this is impossible! I call these scammers the fast-deal, fast-run scams. They act fast when a particular gear is new or in demand, then disappear after many victims falls prey to the scam. The whole process will be repeated again and again with a new name, a new payment account with every new gear launch in the market. So don’t be gullible or greedy, play safe & buy from your local camera stores. (Even if the local stores promises you 2 for the price of 1 – at least you get both the cameras right after paying.)
Case Study #05 – Warranty not Recognized.
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As a Singaporean, Ben frequently visits Hong Kong for recreation and leisure and as a photographer, he cannot but help realized the retail pricing over at HK is slightly cheaper than what we are being offered here by local retailers. During one such visit, Ben decided to visit the camera shops near his hotel which is located near in-between Bristol Avenue & Hart Avenue at the east of Tsim Shai Tsui. There are several camera stores in this area catering to both locals & tourists. Ben went into one of the shops and check out the prices. Yes, the cameras & lenses are slightly cheaper than Singapore. Ben was hesitant as the savings are negligible but the prospect of buying more means more savings.Ben left the shop without buying however the salesman had promised Ben that if he decides to buy, they can throw in free shipping for him and the warranty is valid world wide.
When Ben returned to Singapore, he is still very keen in purchasing the lot. So he went online to the website which the salesman told him about and he placed his order from the store in Hong Kong for 01 DSLR & 03 Lenses. With the free shipping, he saved about SGD $350.00. Ben received his order 4 days later from Hong Kong. Everything is proper and Ben was a happy man. Then something happened. Ben was out shooting with his friends when his DSLR suddenly went dead. He checked everything from battery to contacts but the DSLR remain dead. He decided to pay the local service centre for this brand to seek help.
At the service centre, after Ben told the service person what happened, the SP asked him if the DSLR is still under warranty. Ben replied “Yes” and the SP started to key in the serial number of the DSLR. A few seconds later, the SP told Ben that his DSLR was not purchase locally to Ben’s surprise. “How did they know??” Ben’s thoughts started racing. At this point, Ben decided to be honest and admitted that his DSLR was bought from a HK based online camera store. He told the SP that he was promised “International Warranty”. The SP informed him to read the fine text about International Warranty and what it covers. Now people, every warranty has limitations I am sure all of you would know. In Ben’s case, his 3-weeks old DSLR died from a faulty motherboard and if Ben is to claim from his International Warranty, he has to do it in Hong Kong. The local office will offer other service/ technical/ repair support apart from replacements.
Ben is in dire straits, what he had got himself into? For saving SGD $350.00, his new DSLR is dead and the local office is not going to give him a replacement. Ben decided that he will not pay SGD $480 to replace the motherboard here in Singapore but instead, planned another trip up in 2 months’ time – so he can bring the set to HK’s service centre. Back in Hong Kong, the service centre replaced Ben’s DSLR Motherboard for free, but charged him a service fee the equivalent of SGD $80.00. When Ben narrated his account to me, I burst out laughing – laughed so hard that I almost laughed away my spare tire. His parting words – not worth doing it.
Editor’s Note: Singaporeans travels a lot and many times, ended up in countries when the currency exchange rates is in our favor. We are so tempted to buy gear at times as the savings can adds up to be a lot. And many online shops promises International Warranty, tax rebate, free shipping etc so sometimes it is just easy to buy from overseas or just order from these stores’ online portal. However, many people do not realized that they are not buying just camera & lenses. They are buying electronics and optical instruments and among the lot, there will bound to be some faulty ones, some lemons, and some in-betweens. Warranty comes into the picture and each manufacturer has some differences when it comes to warranty terms & conditions. As a consumer, it is your job to understand, read and know your rights of coverage, and what legal recourse & obligations, and on which/ what area that your warranty is in force or voided. Confusing? You may skip this part if you bought your gear locally in Singapore. :)
Conclusion – Personally, I prefer to buy from a shop where I can feel the item, view the item and talk to real humans for advice. At the very least if something does goes wrong, you can always go to the shop and seek assistance and in worse scenario, taking legal action against the shop will be easy. Not forgetting warranty are honored and recognized by local service centre too! Online stores/ sellers may be cheap – but cheap does comes with risks & a price too.
Things does goes wrong (if you are unlucky to meet unethical merchants)! So ask
yourself if you are willing to take risks to save that couple tens or hundreds of dollars.
Thanks to all who had shared with me their personal experiences and accounts. This article will not be possible without all your inputs. Hope our readers will learn something from all your experiences and hope no one have to go through what you guys & gals went through.
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– AL Lee, Editor.