Well, the holiday season is upon us and millions of unsuspecting citizens are scanning the web for the prices on photo gear. Unfortunately the scammers know this and usually gear up their advertising to meet the demand. Just remember that what you see isn't always what you get and prices on some sites are simply works of fiction! Bait and Switch, excessive handling charges, charging extra for included accessories (like manuals, cables and batteries!) are just a few of the tactics you can expect, along with good old standbys like simply lying!
Here's a list of Photographic and Electronics retail websites that I would check out on ResellerRatings.com before making a purchase. Don't just look at the scores, read the user reviews. Remember that it's possible for stores to post their own positive reviews.
Note also that ResellerRatings.com also have a forum for discussion of issues with merchants and you might also want to search that for information on any store you are thinking of dealing with. The URL of the forum is http://www.resellerratings.com/forum/merchant-discussion-shopping-advice.html
It is possible that some of these photography and electronics websites might be placing ads through Google and that those ads may be served to me via Adsense as below:
Note that with the Google supplied ads on this site I have no warning as to which ads Google will serve to me (i.e. I don't know in advance). They should all be related to photography and most are from reputable companies, but some are not. Google allows me to block up to 200 domains, and when I find a store that appears to be misleading purchasers with artificially low prices that are just bait to attract customers, I add them to the list. I can only do that "after the fact" though, since I only have 200 available slots and there are almost 400 domains on the list below. They also change their names and web domains so just keeping up with them isn't easy!
If you have 7 minutes to spare, this video is either entertaining or horrifying, though either way it's also educational!
Below is a minimum list of store you might want to check out before buying from (you should check out any store you haven't previously dealt with). It's by no means an exhaustive list of photography retail websites and it's quite possible that a few of these domains may now be owned by reputable vendors. The list has been compiled from several sources of "questionable" photography and electronics retail websites and I have not researched each and every website listed here. Again, check out ResellerRatings and if the store/website is, for example, abc123camaras.com, do Google searches on terms like:
Not all of these websites are still in use or are still photography and electronics retailers. Some vendors trade under multiple website names and switch between them. Some change their website after problems and let the old domains expire. Some of these domains may have been bought by other vendors. It's virtually impossible to keep track of exactly who is who and which domains are being used. Some domains which are currently not associated with a website now may well come back in the future.
Some of the sites may appear to be price comparison websites, but the secret behind some of them is that they only compare prices on websites owned by the same corporation that owns the "comparison" website! Other sites are now just worthless lists of links to yet other sites from which the original site gets a commission on purchases. If you don't believe me that some of the shopping comparison sites are bogus, then take a look at this - http://sheddingsomelight.com/buy-cameras/cameras-taleoftwo.html
If the price quoted on an item by a vendor on a camera, lens or other photo/electronics item is unbelievably low, don't believe it. If it's more than about 5% lower than photography stores like Adorama, B&H and Amazon that you KNOW are reputable and reliable, then be quite suspicious. If it's 20%-50% lower, there's a very high chance that the vendor is trying to scam you with some sort of "bait and switch" deal. A camera sold by a reliable store for $1699.95 is simply NOT going to be available for $999.95, no matter what the website says. It simply doesn't happen.
Once again, I'm not saying that any of the stores/domains below are not honest. I'm saying that I'd carefully check their reputation and feedback before making a decision on whether to purchase from them, as indeed you probably should with any website you order from. Buyer Beware. Before buying from anyone you don't know, check their reputation and see if they have received complaints. It the very least to a Google search on the store or domain name and see what comes up.
One other website you might certainly want to consult is Don Wiss' gallery of photo"stores" in Brooklyn
Please feel free to contact me if your favorite website is listed above and you think they are a reliable and trustworthy store. As I said I haven't personally researched each and every site above (though I have looked at most of them) and you should checkout any website you haven't previously dealt with before you purchase from them, not just the ones listed above, which are only a tiny fraction of the e-commerce websites present on the web.
These are links which have appeared on ResellerRantings "lowest rated stores" list. Many of these companies have been driven out of business (presumably due to complaints), leaving their web sites either dead or pointing to other sites. I'm sure they've probably popped up under new names elsewhere. Still it's a valuable exercise to read the customer reviews just so that you have some idea of what to expect if you deal with a company which doesn't make customer service (or honorable business practice) a priority. Again, decide for yourself whether or not you want to deal with any web vendor. Remember always that if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Just because a website looks "professional" that doesn't mean that there is always a good company behind it.
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In case you are wondering by now if it's safe to order photography and electronics from anyone on the web, the answer is that it is. I buy pretty much everything via the web. I'm just careful to pick which stores I deal with. Among them are those listed below:
Amazon, Adorama, B&H and J&R (see links below) are all reputable stores with fair prices and good customer service. I will declare an interest here because this site is affiliated with these stores, but I wouldn't affiliate with anyone unless I trusted them and I actually used them personally for my own purchases. I've bought more than once from all of these vendors and had no problems. I'd use all of them again for my own purchases (and I do).
Obviously they are not the only trustworthy stores. For example Calumet Photographic is also a good store and I've purchased form them too in the past (I bought an EOS 40D from them last year). Right now Amazon is my preferred vendor for most electronics and photographic gear since their prices are generally as low as any legitimate store, they often offer free shipping and they have a 30-day return policy on most items. They are the store that I personally check out first.
I don't know which ads will appear in the block below (served by Google), though there don't seem to currently be any ads from undesirables in the inventory for this page. Obviously if the ads look interesting, check out the company before you deal with them!