Online A/V Gear Shopping Caution

Before buying on-line you need to be informed on the items you want to purchase. It is fine to visit sites to find information on an item. No one has the time to read the instructions of the item they sell nor will they ever print the instructions on-line. (Some cheap stuff comes with incorrect instructions.)

One useful idea is to type in the name of what you want to buy into a search engine along with "reviews." Do not type in:
Kodak cameras+reviews
but type in:
"Easyshare M550"+reviews
The quotes are important, it keeps the terms together. The "Easyshare M550" is a camera by Kodak. Without the quotes, the search for EASYSHARE could give results to file storage. M550 could give results on phones, palm devices, and the M550i by BMW. Be careful of spelling. "Konak" is an actual camera brand that sells cameras the same shape and color as Kodak. There is also a "Yoshiba" with a "Y" that can look like a stylized "T" to confuse you. Trust me on this, the price of these knock-offs is the ONLY thing that is good about the product.

Once you find a good deal on-line be certain to check the dealer. First, look for the mailing address. If you cannot find one, this is a clue they may have something to hide. Another clue is selling photography gear in Brooklyn. Several shops are in Brooklyn that have been known for shady dealings. You buy, they ask if you want extras. (They often name items that already come in the box like a strap and battery charger.) If you decline the add-ons they claim the item is on back order. If they can keep you waiting over 90 days, they know you will have a difficult time getting your credit card company to refund the price you paid.

The names of the companies change as soon as they become known for bad deals. You can actually trace the names by checking the ads in the back of photography magazines and look for which companies share the same fax number. I have found a site that shows the address to be in "Kings County, NY 11211." That is there way to disguise "Brooklyn, New York." (Since the ZIP is Brooklyn the address is valid to the Post Office.)

Another trick is giving themselves great reviews. On sites that have multiple stores (pricegrabber, mysimon, etc.) you will notice the first 10 or so reviews are full of praise and exclamation marks! IF you visit the second page you may see a few bad reviews. They often give enough praise to push the bad reviews off the page.

Check to see if the company lists themselves as a BBB Accredited Business. If they have a BBB logo, click on the logo and see if it takes you to the http://www.bbb.org page that lists the business. This also works with companies with the "CNET Certified Merchant" logo.

There are other logos that mean nothing. Verisign, McAfee Secure, and CyberTrust only tell you that the website follows standard security protocols. Any logo that is not clickable to the site may have been put there to mislead you into thinking they are recommended. The Shopping.com logo is sometimes used by companies with no relation to shopping.com. Sadly so is the BBB logo (if it is not clickable to the BBB.)

Even if a company is not a member of the BBB, they may be listed. People with complaints often ask for help from the BBB. Checking the listing will tell you about the dealings of the company. The BBB gives a grade for each company. A&M Photo World gets an F. Broadway Photo gets an F. Bidz.com gets an F. Amazon.com gets an A+. JC Penney gets an A+. Sears gets an A-. For on-line shopping, I tell newbies to stick with the A team.

Another trick is to have a similar name to a website. Amazon.com is a major seller. Amzone.com is missing an "a" and is not part of amazon.com.

A final warning. Do not buy from out of country websites. There are many good sellers overseas, but if there is any problem, you cannot do anything about it.

About the Author: 

John Pilge is a photographer in Northern California.