It's a sad fact of life that photo-retailing on the web has way more than its fair share of scammers, bait and switch artists and other low life individuals whose goal in life is to part you from your money.
It's only reasonable to look for the best bargains possible and for most people that means looking for the lowest prices. But beware! In the web photo-retailing world there are lots of players who will certainly quote you the lowest prices you've ever seen. You will be tempted to think that they can't possibly be lying, but you will be wrong.
Some of these stores even supply ads to Google, which then passes them on to me. Please be aware that I do not pick and chose which ads Google puts on my pages. Most of the ads are good, but some obviously are not. I need the Google ads to keep this site running, but please don't assume I endorse all the stores that supply ads via Google, because I don't. When I find one of these disreputable stores advertising through Google, I block them, but I can't spot them all and new ones crop up all the time, so do your homework before dealing with a store you don't know and I don't specifically endorse. The stores I endorse are listed below, but they are basically Amazon.com, Adorama and B&H Photo for photo gear.
One thing I've noticed recently is that a number of the stores with really bad user reviews have started selling via eBay. On eBay their prices are usually a bit higher then they advertise in other places, but you can pretty much spot the stores to avoid by the ads they run. They typically offer a "kit" consisting of the camera body plus lenses, tripods, memory cards, flash units and camera bags for what looks like a very good price. However the lenses are often the very cheapest lenses they can find. Sometimes a screw on "wideangle" or "telephoto" adapter is counted as a lens. The memory card is unbranded and the rest of the items are worthless plastic toys. Shipping charges are also higher then from reputable stores, customer service is usually non-existant and most of the items will be "grey market". By some means (I have no idea how) , they get very high positive ratings on eBay - but if you look at the same stores on resellerratings.com you'll see that they have abysmal ratings (as described below). Another very interesting resource is http://toolhaus.org/. They provide a tool that lets you look at the comments of buyers who have left negative feedback on an eBay seller. It can give you a very different picture then you'd get from the normal eBay feedback page. If you still decide to buy from them after doing diligent research, that's fine. it's your choice. Just be aware of what you are doing and who you are dealing with. Here's feedback one buyer wrote about one of these stores. I've no idea if it's true, but I've heard similar stories from others:
"....Purchased off ebay on the 31st. wouldnt ship until I called sales. Bait and switch set up. After numerous emails they wanted me to call and talk to sales..Why would I need to talk to sales? They tried to sell me batteries, other lenses, etc etc. After telling him no he puts me on hold for about another 15 mins and someone else answers and by now I'm beyond mad and get the same sales pitch. I told them no AGAIN and he cont. interupted me after numerous times telling him to send my camera. I was told the only way for them to send my camera was to leave them positive feedback...."
The scam stores have a multitude of ways to get money from you. They may not have the advertised item in stock, but they will try to sell you something else (usually an inferior item for an inflated price). They may tell you that the advertised price is for the inferior plastic version of the the lens made in China and the one made using glass in Japan is $200 more (there are no plastic versions made in China). They may say, yes, the camera is $400, but if you want the box, manual, strap, battery, charger and software (all supplied standard by the manufacturer), it will cost you an extra $200. They may add on a $75 shipping charge. They may send the wrong (cheaper) items and hope you can't be bothered to send them back. There really is no end to the ways they have to scam you.
Once you get the stuff and try to send it back you'll find that they'll stick you with a hefty "restocking charge" which can be 15-20% of your total order, so on a $2000 purchase it would cost you $300-$400 to send it back, plus the hassle of actually getting them to make the refund (they will be in no hurry).
Don't think you can avoid high pressure sales by ordering on the web either. After you place your order you'll get email asking you to call them to confirm your order. When you do, that's when the bait and switch will shift into high gear.
Many of the worst stores are based in Brooklyn, NY and many of them trade under several different names. All of them should be avoided at all costs. How can you tell who these stores are? Well, Resellerratings.com is a good place to check on web retailers. They have both numerical scores and detailed user comments on thousands of stores who do business on the web.
I use the word "store" for want of something better, but many of these operations don't actually have a retail store. They operate out of garages and basements, warehouses and bedrooms. All you need for an internet business is a website and a phone line. A valuable resource is http://donwiss.com/pictures/BrooklynStores/ which is a gallery of photographs of the listed "location" for many of these less then reputable "stores" in Brooklyn.
Here's brief quote from a New York Times Article from January 2006
Here are a few of the photo stores that I personally would be pretty reluctant to do business with. There are probably 100 others by now (or at least 100 new domain names). The ratings are lifetime ratings out of a maximum of 10 points from the Resellerratings.com website. People love to complain, so even some pretty decent retailers can get scores of 6 or 7. Anything around a 5 means you might want to be a little cautious in dealing with the store. Anything around 1 or less is pretty abysmal. I'm not suggesting any of these stores are crooks of course. That's up to you to decide. All I'm saying is that I, personally, would not trust any of them. Note that some of these stores (if not all of them!) have been accused of posting their own positive reviews of themselves to resellerratings.com to try to boost their dismal scores. If they still can't score more than 1/10 after posting bogus positive reviews, imagine how low their scores would be without them!
|Store Name||Lifetime Rating (out of a maximum of 10)|
|Broadway Photo ||0.8|
|A&M Photo World ||0.8|
|Regal Camera ||0.8|
|Prestige Camera ||0.8|
|Preferred Photo ||0.8|
|PricingDepot.com ||see above|
|CCICameraCity ||0.41 (lifetime)
0.05 (6 months)
0.00 (6 months)
0.16 (6 months)
[all recent ratings
|AllStar Camera Inc ||1.39|
 Same company trading under different names - J and K Cameras, Inc., MrAccessory.com, InfinityCameras.com, InfinitiCameras.com, InfinitiPhoto.com, Best Price Cameras (BestPriceCameras.com), Enterprise Photo (EnterprisePhoto.com)
 Same company trading under different names - A&M Photo World LLC (AMPhotoWorld.com), Broadway Photo (BwayPhoto.com), Digital Liquidators (DigitalLiquidators.com)
 Same company trading under different names - Radio Active Electronics, USAPhotoNation.com and RadioactiveDeals.com
 Same company trading under different names - Camera City Inc., CCI Camera City (CCICameraCity.com), Royal Camera and Video Inc. (RoyalCamera.com), The Camera Source, Inc., TCSCamera.com, TheCamerasSource.com, BananaBoatCamera.com
 Same company trading as AllStar Camera Inc., and TheCameraPros.com
 Same company trading as SonicCameras.com and PricingDepot.com
 Also watch out for C&A Marketing Inc. who also trade as BarclaysPhoto.com, dbrothonline.com, dbroth.com and who were formerly: PriceRitePhoto.com, TheCameraMall.com, EmpirePhoto.com, DigitalGoodys.com and CamerasGoneWild.com
Note also that this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the camera stores I'd hesitate to deal with
Unfortunately you may occasionally see Google serving ads from some of these companies on this website. I don't know what ads Google is going to serve ahead of time. Most of the Google Ads are from reputable vendors but some may not be, so just because an ad from Google appears on this website does NOT mean that I'm endorsing the advertiser. The Google ads are always labelled (sometimes as "Ads by Google", sometimes as "Ads by Goooooogle" for some reason known only to Google). I do add scam stores to my Google "blocking" list when I find them, but I can only do that after I see an ad from the store, and the "block" can take a number of hours to take effect.
So where to buy? Well, I recommend trying Amazon.com, though I should declare an interest here since I run ads for Amazon.com on this website. However I'll add that over the last couple of years I've bought books, cameras (DSLRs and digicams), lenses, electronics (hard drives, routers, MP3 player), printer supplies (inks and paper) and even a couple of watches from them with no significant problems. Delivery has been when promised (or earlier) and they have always billed me for the exact amount they said they would. The rating for Amazon.com is lower than you might expect on resellerratings.com (6.5), but remember that the rating is for anything bought from anyone on the Amazon site, and that includes 3rd party merchants and private individuals over who Amazon has no direct control. I normally buy from Amazon.com itself or from Adorama or J&R via the Amazon website. For my transactions (maybe 25 or 30 purchases in the last two years) I'd probably rate them at at least a 9 out of 10. My last purchase from them was an EOS 40D I bought back in September and I get my printing supplies (ink and paper) from them several times each year. Though Amazon don't widely advertise their toll free customer support number, its 1-800-201-7575. I've called them a few times about orders and they've always been polite and helpful.
I hate to sound like an Amazon ad, but they also offer free shipping on many items and they have a 30-day return policy, which few other vendors can match. Check their product pages carefully for rebates and other special offers (such as free memory cards or free printing services) which are offered from time to time.
You can also buy from other reputable stores such as Adorama, J&R camera, Calumet etc. through the Amazon website. If you do that though you pay whatever that store charges for shipping and you get that stores return policy, not Amazon's, but you might also get a slightly lower price.
Of course Amazon doesn't carry absolutely everything and there may be some items which are only stocked at specialist photo stores such as Adorama and B&H Photo. Just be very, very careful indeed buying any photo gear from any store that has a price significantly lower than those you see listed by the major discount vendors. If a price seems to be too good to be true it almost always is!