Everyone loves a bargain, and some popular models are available at lower prices from online retailers operating out of Asia and the US. But if it looks too good, it very often is, and there’s a whole range of considerations the canny consumer needs to keep in mind when buying online.

[ NOTE: this article has been updated here. ]

The pros are obvious when buying online and are mostly to do with price, but the ‘cons’ also need to be considered:

1. Well, first is being conned! It happens occasionally when you ship money off to some random offshore entity without a phone number or address. The danger shouldn’t be overstated, but it is something to consider.

2. When the shipping costs and shipping insurance are added to the purchase costs, the savings often aren’t as impressive as they looked on first appearance.

3. Prices are usually non-negotiable – whereas real live salespeople can negotiate – not to mention providing sound advice on features and options. And you can come back to the store whenever you want.

4. There is no guarantee that the product is fit for local conditions – cables, plugs, voltage, accessories, etc, and certainly no local certification such as the C-Tick compliance which Australian consumer products are required to have.

5. If there is a warranty honoured, you will incur a $50-$100 cost shipping the product back to some other part of the world. Non-refundable.

6. You will usually wait at least a week for the product to be delivered and if a repair is required, many more weeks for it to be returned – hopefully fixed and without long-distance disputes.

7. Tax fraud. If you’re in Australia and purchase a product overseas for more than $1000 without paying GST (which seems to be a common wheeze on EBay), you could be in trouble with Customs and the ATO. Avoid at all costs – Customs has recently been running a bit of a blitz on this. According to the Australian Government’s Customs website: “All imported goods are subject to assessment for duty, Goods and Services Tax (GST) and other taxes and charges even if you imported those goods for your own use.” (http://www.customs.gov.au/site/page5549.asp)

8 If you’re based in Australia and purchase from overseas, you deny yourself the protection of a whole swag of Australian consumer protection legislation, such as statutory warranties (standard consumer protection beyond the warranty supplied by the distributor), fit-for-purpose requirements – and simply protection from being swindled. The Australian Consumer Laws have been beefed up from January this year and now compare to the toughest in the world – whereas it’s very much a ‘buyer beware’, no-refund environment in the global marketplace.

9. There are also some other considerations which aren’t to do with the risk of a troublesome transaction or faulty product, and those revolve around supporting Australian retailers and in turn Australian jobs – with smaller operators in particular under a lot of pressure.

And while there’s a sentiment being aired that Australian retailers are overcharging for products, and so deserve to lose sales, the real facts are that the smaller retailers have no say over the wholesale price they are charged (nor the price the larger retailers purchase the same product for), and can’t afford to put much of a margin on cameras at all.

10. Photo specialist retailers are there to help you enjoy your photography – it’s a shared interest that goes beyond the sale of a product.

Keith Shipton