Are Mail Order Retailers Safe?

Photography is an addictive hobby. Most people start with a simple point and shoot camera and, as their involvement in the immense possibilities increases, they go for more sophisticated cameras and equipment. That’s great but what often catches people unaware is the cost of photographic equipment.

There are two things that go into making a good photograph - the talent of the photographer and the quality of the equipment used. While it’s true that a good photographer can get great results even with mediocre equipment and the even the best equipment can’t make a bad photographer good, the best results are combination of a good photographer and a great equipment.

But good photographic equipment is expensive. And for the amateur photographer, it’s all outflow and no income. The sensible thing to do is to shop around for the best prices. There are two ways of going about this.

Traditional photographic retail outlets offer the best service – although you may occasionally come across sales people who know less than you do! However, most retailers will be able to tell you about the product features, let you try it out in the store and also discuss other options with you. You also get a proper invoice or a receipt and a warranty for what you buy. Additionally, you can always go back to them with any minor problem you may have. They’ll also be able to guide you in your warranty and product replacement problems, should any arise. The down side is that they can be expensive (sales and seasonal discounts aside).

Mail order photographic retailers are normally much cheaper because they purchase in bulk and do not have expensive overheads. While this makes sense and there are many reputable mail order retailers, you need to be careful and know what you are getting into before buying from them.

Many mail order retailers get their stock outside normal distribution channels. That is not to say they are selling smuggled or defective goods, but they may have obtained their supplies from a wholesale distributor in some remote offshore location where taxes and shipping costs etc. are low. Nothing wrong with that but how sure can you be that the material is not stuff that has been rejected by the manufacturer’s quality control and found its way out of the factory? Also, while there may be a warranty, how good is it? Many goods imported from overseas only have limited warranty because they were not sent directly to the US market. This means that if there is a problem requiring a repair or replacement at the manufacturer’s cost, you will have to send it to one of the overseas addresses. That’s not a workable proposition in any way.

Mail order retailers may also charge huge amounts for returning their products. This is called a re-stocking fee and can be anywhere from 10 - 40% of the product cost.

This does not mean that buying from mail order retailers is something to avoid. The savings you can get make it a worthwhile option. Just be careful about where and from whom you are buying from. The best sources are those with good reputation who do not offer unbelievably low prices (something has to be wrong), spell out the warranty terms clearly up front and are willing to answer all your queries before you buy.


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