Where To Buy A Digital Camera

You've done all the research, set a budget, weighed up the options and decided on a camera model. Now it's just a matter of finding the best deal.

leadpic_cam-action-site

You've done all the research, set a budget, weighed up the options and decided on a camera model. Now it's just a matter of finding the best deal.

Should your first stop be the good old three Ws?

Well, maybe, although when it comes to purchasing a camera online, "www" could stand for "Wild, Wild West" rather than "World Wide Web". To be fair, only a segment of the online camera sales channel needs to be approached with caution. There are some good operators in Australian-based online camera sales, some of whom compete with "bricks and mortar" retailers (www.dirtcheapcameras.com.au, www.digitalcamerawarehouse.com.au, www.digitalcameras.com.au) and some, such as Melbourne's Camera Action (www.cameraaction.com.au) that have a presence in both channels.

Even some local operators get mixed-to-poor reviews in terms of rough service, or sharp practices like advertising products not in stock or at an incorrect price. One national franchise in particular, IT Warehouse, has attracted the interest of the ACCC and has it's very own 'gripes forum' on the broadband consumer website, www.whirlpool.net.au.

While there are both good and bad retailers both online and in Australia's shopping centres, there are some critical issues which weigh heavily against overseas-based online camera sellers - but more of that later in this piece.

Price Comparison

A quick and dirty comparative survey of camera prices on the web and via a number of conventional retailers indicates that generally speaking, prices are pretty similar. In an oligopolistic marketplace this generally indicates some form of price setting and a "sellers' market". You won't see much variation in price for the Apple iPod, for example, and I would imagine Apple is enjoying a big fat margin on their latest "to die for" gadget.

But when there are many sellers all trying to make a buck selling multiple variations of the same thing, it's impossible to hold prices up. Sellers have to compete with thin margins to make a sale, and it's a buyers' market. With literally hundreds of models to choose from, and hundreds of outlets selling the little blighters, digital cameras are most definitely a buyers' market right now.

d50s_18-55_200

Taking three models - the popular Nikon D50/18-55mm lens digital SLR kit [right], the recently released, high-end Canon Ixus 750 and the older, mid-range Canon Powershot A520, we endeavoured to find some dead-set bargains both online and in store.

Best prices for the (RRP $1499) D50 were on eBay, where the camera and lens were being offered for $950, shipped from Hong Kong. The best price offered by a locally-based seller on eBay was $1098 (from Discount Digital Photographics Pty Ltd in Sydney). At the same time the camera and lens were available from Michaels (www.michaels.com.au) in Melbourne at $1199, including a digital photography course and $100 worth of free printing!

Now if you're willing to wait a few days and pay a small shipping fee ($10 to $30 depending on your location) the online deal does offer a slight saving, but it's less than 10 percent off the best retail store price. And remember, it's a buyers' market - who is to say what a keen salesperson might knock off the tagged price if you wave cash in front of him or her in a seductive manner?
Overseas Website Warning

That leaves the $950 deal from Hong Kong as the real dollar saver. Dig a little deeper, however, and you'll find it comes with quite a lot of baggage attached. The key issues are:

Warranty: Digital cameras only carry a valid warranty in "the country of primary sale". Local distributors are reluctant to absorb the costs of repairing a product they did not make the original sale on. Often overseas sellers will offer to ship the camera back to, for instance, Hong Kong for repair at their expense. If you are comfortable with this, at least read the fine print and enquire how long the service cycle will be.

Buying locally also covers you under federal and state consumer protection legislation.

Safety: All electrical goods sold in Australia should carry the C-Tick logo, signifying they have passed local safety standard requirements. Local distributors once again go to considerable cost to comply with the C-Tick code. It's not just window dressing, and is designed to protect Australian consumers from injury.

Returns: If you buy from an Australian retailer you are entitled to replacement or, in some circumstances, refunds on products that are faulty or not fit for the purpose for which they were advertised. Online sellers operating from overseas may make a similar offer, but it's generally less the cost of shipping the product back to from where it came, and once again you aren't under the umbrella of Australian consumer protection if there's a dispute.

Accessories: Make sure that you are comparing like with like. For instance, does the camera come with a locally compatible battery charger or a storage card? Check the local distributor's website for the list of standard accessories available in Australia. (Often overseas-sourced cameras will be bundled with tripods, storage cards, lens cleaners and the like to sweeten the deal further, but these are unlikely to be top-shelf products.)

GST: Only companies with an Australian ABN can charge GST, so this becomes a real grey area. Legally you should be paying GST, and Customs can charge you the equivalent import duty if your shipment is checked, plus an extra fee for the clearance documentation.

The online price from overseas will not include GST. For business purchases, this means the GST can't be claimed back, which will usually tilt things back in favour of a local retailer.

For those considering purchasing a camera cheaply while overseas it's worth noting all the above, as well as the Tourist Refund Scheme, which entitles you to a refund of GST on goods over the value of $300 carried as hand luggage, if you are travelling in the next 30 days.
Shipping: The shipping cost for the $950 D50 from Hong Kong is $90! Add that to the price, plus the risk of getting stung at Customs for another $100 or so, and the online bargain doesn't look quite so flash, especially for lower-priced cameras. Local online sellers generally have modest shipping and insurance rates or even free shipping for purchases over a certain amount.

A similar pattern emerged with the 7-megapixel Canon Ixus 750, released in September last year with an RRP of $799. From Hong Kong, the best price was $458 + $80 for shipping and $20 for insurance - say $560 all up. This did not include GST; it was an overseas model ("Canon Ixy 700") and you had to ship the thing back to Honkers for warranty repair.

Best price from an Australian dealer offering a tax invoice and Canon Australia warranty on eBay was $665 including shipping. In between these two price points were a whole mess of sellers purporting to be operating out of Australia, but without tax invoices or local warranties. Emptor should be highly caveat indeed in these instances - local factotums don't necessarily guarantee the business is totally legitimate.

Among the genuine Australian online sellers, prices ranged from $660 through to $700, which is fairly close to the price point at discount retail outlets. You may come out of the transaction online with an extra $10 or $20 in your pocket, but don't forget that you can cut a deal in store, whereas the price is generally fixed over the internet.

In Summary

So overall, online camera shopping offers convenience and the ability to compare a whole range of prices easily and quickly, but not a massive benefit in dollar savings.

The fact is that, for the reasons outlined above, Australian camera pricing is fairly keen, so it's hard to find a comparative bargain - it's all good!

The exception to this rule is when a local distributor offloads remaining stock of a model to make way for a new release. If you identify a model that appeals and are willing to wait a few months, you can find some real "steals". Take for instance the 4 Megapixel/ 4x zoom Canon Powershot A520, released in March at an RRP of $499. It can now be picked up at one online retailer for $284 including shipping. Lowest Ebay price shipped from Hong Kong is $335!

Worth A Look

For auction sites check out www.ebay.com.au and www.graysonline.com.au.

Other camera retailers worth a look include Camera House (www.camerahouse.com.au), Dick Smith Electronics (www.dse.com.au), and Paxtons (www.paxtons.com.au).

dig-rev

"Digitalrev" is one of the larger Hong Kong-based online camera retailers, with a big presence on ebay as well.

dcw-site

Local online resellers will generally emphasise that they source their products from local distributors, with full local warranty offered.

Photo Review is Looking for Your Feedback
Have you ever purchased any photographic products online? If so, we're compiling some advice for people looking to buy photographic products online and we'd appreciate your feedback, good or bad. Click here for Feedback Form.

For more advice on making a purchase online see Australian Competition and Consumer Commission: http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/8135.