There are loads of fly-by-night camera gear sellers and stores online, and not all are made equal. It’s easy to get tempted by bargain-barrel prices, especially if you’re shopping on a tight budget. Here’s a quick rule of thumb: if the price is too good to be true, it’s a scam.
Here’s a list of warning signs to watch for:
- Rock-Bottom Prices
- Funky Seller’s Name/Store Name
- Return policy
Skip ahead for reputable sellers that I like.
For the newer cameras made within the past 3 years, you will very rarely see a discount of more than 10%, unless it’s a part of a special promotion like “buy X camera, get Y lens with a 20% discount.”
Funky Seller’s Name/Store name
By itself, an unknown seller name isn’t a sure-fire red flag. After all there are always new stores popping up, trying to make a go at retail. However, there are a number of known stores that have a reputation for having poor business polices, being difficult to return goods, and having a very limited or no warranty.
In general, when shopping online – especially on a major retailer like Amazon – try to buy direct from Amazon, from the camera gear manufacturer (eg Canon sells their cameras on Amazon), or a known camera seller.
If an Amazon seller has a name like Camera4Less (not a real name, as far as I know), and very few reviews, take a pass.
Cameras made by the major camera manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony all have warranties of varying length and coverage, usually “limited.” They cover defects and recalls. If a camera is found to be defective, it can either be repaired or replaced.
Cameras purchased through unauthorized third-party sellers like Camera4Less (not a real name) are considered “gray market” cameras. In most cases, the manufacturers’ warranties are considered null and void.
Unauthorized third-party sellers will sometimes claim that there is a warranty. This “warranty” does not exist. It often is invented in order to entice a buyer into thinking their purchase is legitimate.
Some camera and electronics retailers offer their own warranty plan. If you buy a camera product from a particular store, like Best Buy, they have their own warranty or “protection plan” system. However, it can be hit or miss on whether you can get a particular store to honor their warranty and repair or replace a product.
Another red flag to watch for is a seller’s return policy. A reputable store will have their policy well-explained in a clear, easy to see location, and it’ll have reasonable requirements. For example, here’s B&H Photo’s policy, which is an established retailer with a good reputation. They make it easy for you to return a product if you’re not happy with it. Their requirements are: initiate the return within 30 days, fill out a form, pack your item properly, and ship with a label.
When you buy from an unauthorized third-party seller like fictional Camera4Less, their return policy won’t always be disclosed. If you ask, they often will avoid answering in clear terms. Or their policy will have unrealistic requirements like “the camera must be returned within 7 days of ship date in an unopened condition, with the shrink wrap still on the package.”
Tell me this: if it takes 5 days for your order to arrive, and you can’t open the package to make sure it’s intact…do you think you can return it within the remaining 48 hours on the clock? Less, really, because most postal offices and shipping facilities aren’t open 24/7.
Complaints and Reviews
Looking for complaints and reviews might seem like a common-sense step. We shoppers don’t always think of seeking problems first, especially if a store seller seems legit. If they have a nice little logo, have a polished, modern storefront website, and are nicely organized, we’re easily led into thinking this seller is a trustworthy one.
I try to make it a habit to check for complaints, especially if I’m considering buying from a new-to-me retailer. Google: “storename/seller complaints” and “storename/seller reviews”.
People often leave reviews on Yelp, BBB, ConsumerReport, Resellerratings, and a number of other similar sites.
Do take these with a grain of salt, though: people are 5x more likely to complain than praise a business.
However, if you see a litany of detailed, consistent complaints centered around a store’s particular service or product, it’s a strong indication of a systematic, ongoing problem that you might want to avoid.
Other potential red flags to watch for
- Unusually low or high shipping fees
- Company does not list a phone number or provide a way to contact them
- Contact person’s name is foreign
- Once an order is placed, the company contacts you for additional personal information like your birth date and place of birth
Reputable Camera Sellers I Trust
Amazon — I always buy direct from Amazon, its warehouse, or brands’ storefronts (for example, if I want a Black Rapid Camera Strap, I’ll buy from Black Rapid’s storefront on Amazon).
Canon, Nikon, Pentax, etc – Direct from the brands’ store websites
Local mom n’ pop shops – you’ll have to do a little asking around to find one you trust. In general, camera stores that aren’t a part of a chain or a franchise (like Ritz/Wolf Camera stores) are usually good. Supporting a small business is always a good move.