Source: Photographic Mail Order Survey rec.photo.misc posting in 2000 listed at Leslie O'Shaughnessy Studios at compsolv.com. (Dealer Summary here.)


         Tips for shopping from mail order firms

    These are some general guidelines developed by readers over the years.
    As with any guideline, there are times when it is appropriate to "break"
    them.  However, as many survey users can attest, if you don't follow one
    of the following there is a good chance that you'll be sorry.

1.  ORDER BY CREDIT CARD ONLY.  Don't pay the credit card bill until you have
    received the goods in satisfactory condition.  To avoid interest charges,
    when you pay the rest of the credit card bill, include a note explaining
    the contested charge.

2.  ASK WHAT THE SHIPPING AND HANDLING CHARGES WILL BE.  Most stores no longer
    just charge you the freight, but also include a sizable handling charge.

3.  ASK IF THE ITEM CARRIES A U.S. WARRANTY.  New York stores (but not others)
    now have to tell you whether what they are selling you carries a U.S.
    warranty.  Grey market material does not carry a U.S. warranty and is
    sold at a significantly lower price.  International warranties may be
    worthless, but you may not feel you need the warranty protection.  Some
    stores do not allow returns of grey market material.  If the material
    arrives damaged you must file an insurance claim.  The price advertized
    in photography magazines is frequently the grey market price.  And they
    may not have the grey market item in stock, but only the higher priced
    U.S. warranty item.  NOTE: May want to ask if it's a Manufactur's U.S.
    Warranty.

4.  DON'T AGREE TO BUY ANYTHING YOU HADN'T PLANNED TO BUY WHEN YOU CALLED.
    For example, often when buying a lens, the salesperson may try to
    get you to buy a filter.  Be sure you know what you're getting : there
    many different filters available, of varying quality and price.  You
    likely spent time determining the right lens, your filter is just as
    important.  Filters may be as cheap, or just a little more, at
    your local camera store.  As a general rule, don't buy anything solely
    on the phone salesman's recommendations.  Though there may be exceptions,
    most are not there to help you.

5.  WHEN ORDERING, ASK FOR THE NAME OF THE SALESPERSON.  Record this piece
    of information along with the time, date, and agreed upon sales price and
    merchandise.

6.  WHEN YOU GET YOUR EQUIPMENT, TEST IT IMMEDIATELY.  If it is defective, call
    the mail order company immediately and arrange for returning it.  See #1
    above.  Ask for a return authorization number and get the name of the
    person you talk to.  Most stores give you rather short period for
    returning defective equipment, so waste a roll of film and get it
    developed at a one day service place.

7.  ASK IF THE ITEM IS IN STOCK.  There appears, however, to be no reason to
    believe their answer.

8.  Call around and get the best price with the desired warranty, including
    shipping and handling.  Add 10 or 15 per cent for nuisance.  Then call
    around to your local stores and see if they can come close.  Very
    frequently they will.

9.  Low end items, like small autofocus cameras, are frequently just as cheap,
    if not cheaper when you consider the shipping and handling, in the local
    discount department stores.

10. IF YOU PAID FOR SHIPPING ALREADY, YOUR SHIPPING COMPANY SHOULDN'T CHARGE
    YOU ANYTHING FOR "EXTRA" SERVICE.  If you paid for shipping to your
    mail-order company, that mail order company should mail your goods to your
    house.  If you get a phone call from the local shipping company saying they
    need an extra "service fee", refuse to pay.  You can give the shipping
    company the phone number of the mail-order company so they can hash it out,
    or call the mail-order company directly and complain. 

11. IF REORDERING, CONSIDERING ASKING FOR THE SAME SALESPERSON:  A few folks
    have noted that they receive better experience this way.  A salesperson's
    day is usually spent speaking to a bunch of anonymous folks.  If you
    notice a salesperson it probably would make them feel better and might
    get you that little extra service.

See Also: Auction Fraud
last updated 4 Jan 2003