Pitfalls of shopping for a good camera online

stealing on flickr continues...I remember back in the 60′s the good ‘ol bait and switch was used by even the largest retailers, even amid the clamor and outrage expressed by just about everyone. Eventually laws were passed making this practice illegal in most places. In other places with timid (or captured) government, class-action suits served to fill the void. This type of selling, perhaps more so than any other practice, can drive people into a table-pounding, frenzied rage. And, although being a quiet, thoughtful and forgiving person, your’s truly is no exception to this rule.

So it was that I was shopping for a semi-pro SLR camera for my wife and found a GREAT price at a little online shop named ShopDigitalDirect.com. I doubt that there is a legitimate part of this business. The evil part is that they advertise an almost- too-good-to-be-true price for the camera body and then call you to <ahem> confirm the order. During this confirmation call, they try to upsell you on various add-ons. For example, the price on the camera body was about $285. But during the confirmation call I added a battery and a charger. Total price – nearly $600. Well this was where I put on the brakes. First, the guy told me that the package did not include a charger or battery (which I later found out is a bald faced lie). Looking around their web site I noticed that the price on a 4gb SD card was $135. Sheesh, I can get that for less than $20 just about everywhere else. So I told this guy to forget about the charger and battery. I would stick with my original order.

As my anger and suspicion grew over the next several days, I decided to call them up and get the status of my order. Imagine my surprise when I heard that my camera was backordered and would not be shipped for 8 to 15 weeks. I wasn’t going to hold my breath on that one. So I cancelled my order and filed a compaint with the FTC. A lot of good that’s going to do… but it lowered my blood pressure a bit all the same.

Since then I have discovered that this shop is well known to the consumer protection web sites. I should have checked with these sites before I placed my order. Also, once I knew these people were thieves I started to worry about my credit card. I should have used the one-time use card numbers that my bank offers as a free service. So there are many lessons here:

1. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We all know this one already, but it bears repeating.

2. For an unfamiliar merchant, always use a one-time-use credit card number offered by your bank.

3. Check the consumer fraud web sites for compliants about the business before you order.

4. Do not order from a web site if you cannot find their mailing address.

5. Specifically, do not order any camera equipment from an online shop when their address is in Brooklyn, NY (found this tip on a consumer protection site).

After all of that, this story has a happy ending. Amazon.com happened to have the best real price on the camera. I ordered it and it arrived promptly and in good condition. And it was all worth it to see the suprise on my wife’s face when she opened her gift on Christmas morning. I’m such a good husband! :-)

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