Now that we have addressed the types of product and where they come from and what you can expect when buying them, the last thing is the type of tactics that are used also need to be addressed.
Bait and Switch.
One of the oldest tricks in the book, quite honestly because it still works, is listing a popular product at an amazingly low price to draw consumers in only to find that it is not in stock, or in stock in a gray market or refurbished condition (but not readily declared as such). The market is very competitive and any quick search on a reseller rating website will produce a long list of companies to buy from. Retailers recognize that the lowest price in that long list of search results ultimately translates to clicks and traffic so they will take unethical measures to draw you to click on their link.
Some of the worst practitioners of this exercise are merely boiler room organizations that consist of a room with only telephones at a non-descript location with dark windows. A lot of them can notoriously be found in Brooklyn, NY. Essentially, their business plan is to sell gray market products without disclosing that fact, or new products at cost, to get you on the phone to “hard-sell” you accessories at an obscenely marked up price you will “need”. If you don’t want these accessories suddenly the camera you wanted to order becomes out of stock. These companies make virtually nothing from the sale of the camera. Their whole directive is to sell accessories. Their pay is totally dependent on it so this is a very hard selling technique. Needless to say, these are the same type of businesses that do NOT want to hear back from you if you are having problems with your purchase. Like the topics listed earlier, stores in New York aren’t automatically shady. In fact, a few of the best businesses to buy from are in New York. Like all rules, there are important exceptions.
\"Hard Sell\" is the ugly brother of the average \"Soft Sell\" - typically, your camera being in stock doesn’t depend on the results of the “soft-sell” technique. Soft-selling is generally just good sales, along the same lines of “do you want fries with that?” Occasionally annoying, usually ethical and, in some rare cases, useful at bringing things to your attention that you may not have considered.
One easy way to identify these organizations is to look at the typical accessories like: batteries, memory, camera bags, etc and look at the prices. If they are selling the cameras for hundreds less than other websites but their accessories are noticeably and drastically higher than others, that should be a red flag.
Another interesting scenario is if you choose a model of camera and three places have a price within just a few dollars of each other (which is not too suspicious in of itself). But upon further investigating each site, you find that all the “recommended accessories” are exactly the same from website to website and are exactly the same inflated price. In my research, I found three sites that were identical, turns out they were all the same company. Unscrupulous businesses will always have three or four websites in play at any one time. As soon as one of them has been branded by one too many burnt customer experiences, they shut it down and up pops a new one offering all the same exact products as their sister sites allowing them to spread the misery over a wider, less noticeable customer base.
Transaction Requires a Callback
Once you have made a purchase through a retailer’s website, if there is a problem with the card, address, etc it is a good standard and legitimate practice to prompt a phone call to verify certain facts which is why unscrupulous retailers will exploit this standard business practice and even fabricate them to provide an opportunity to hard sell you the stuff they need to sell you and that you don’t want, at least, not at their prices. If you read a lot of reseller feedback entries in the rating websites, take special note of the poorly scored complaints, if you see a series of people complaining of the “call back” scenario, stay away.
Ideally, you should be able to go to a retailer’s website, choose your product, enter your payment method, confirmation of delivery with tracking number and receive your product. Good resellers may find themselves in a position to verify customer information and that alone should not cause alarm, but the second the subject of additional product you did not put in your order comes up, beware.
Card Charged Before Shipment or Long Shipping Times
Because a lot of unethical camera retailers depend on the misrepresentation of gray market stock, they sometimes make a practice of taking your order and not shipping it straight away. Wanna know why? Typically, gray market products can’t be bought on demand, one or two at a time, but in large bulk shipment sizes. So what they do is take your order along with several others until they compile enough to constitute an actual order for the product. They are basically selling you what they don’t have and intending you to hang on a hook until there are enough of other people like you that come along wanting to order the same item. I’ve seen stories of people waiting for up to three months.
In the US, it is against the law to charge your account until the product ships. If you have found that you have been charged but the retailer cannot prove that your stuff is en route, then in the words of Liz Sherman from the movie Hellboy
“You should be running.” Seriously, cancel your order immediately.