Shopping on either the virtual High Street or the actual High Street both have their own advantages and disadvantages, so let’s take a closer look at both.
SHOPPING ON THE HIGH STREET
One truism that we can’t state strongly enough is that how a camera feels in your own hands is every bit as important as the opinion of an independent reviewer. Of course, reading our reviews will help to steer you towards the right camera by offering an unbiased opinion on what feels good and what doesn’t, and what’s easy to use and what isn’t, however when buying a new camera, you should always try and get a feel for the camera yourself as well.
For this reason, it’s always a good idea to log yourself off the internet and get down the shops to have a proper look at the camera(s) you’re interested in. An added benefit of this is that any good camera shop worth its salt will employ knowledgeable staff who’ll be able to give you some additional help you with your purchase.
And of course, as the old saying goes, forewarned is forearmed and so by walking into your local store with a good idea of what you’re after in advance, you’ll be able to compare them all directly against each other.
You’ll undoubtedly find online prices are, on the whole, cheaper than they are when shopping on the High Street. This is simply because retailers can operate with lower overheads than a big store in the centre of town can. Occasionally you might even find that a retailer will even offer an online discount but charge full-price in-store, in which case it’s always worth look to see (or even phoning up and asking) whether you can buy online and collect in-store.
If you are planning to buy online then the number one rule is to make sure you buy from a reputable retailer. Our sister title, WhatDigitalCamera.com holds an annual poll of its readers to find the best retailers, and you can view the results of the latest survey here Of course, given that we live in hard times it can be tempting it can be to go with the lowest price you can find online. However this often involves buying from eBay sellers or grey importers, and while this might save you a few quid in the short-term it can all too easily lead to a load of unwanted hassle too.
Reputable retailers will always operate on UK soil and sell officially sourced goods that are intended specifically for the UK market (think three-pin plugs and English instruction manuals). Most of the big names – Park Cameras, Calumet Photo, Amazon and suchlike – should need no introduction, but if it’s a business you’re not sure of then do a bit of research. Look for a trading address (often located in the ‘Contact Us’ or ‘Who Are We?’ pages of their website) and don’t be afraid to ask around or look them up; chances are you won’t be the first person to have done so.
If you’re using Google Shopping to search for the lowest price (as surely everyone does these days) then cast a critical eye over the ‘Seller Ratings’ as well as the headline prices, especially the most recent reviews. Check to see if the sellers are UK-based and despatching their goods in a timely manner, and how helpful their customer service is? Reputable retailers will have been trading for many years and have a long history of satisfied customers, which should be reflected in their Google seller ratings. Be especially wary of any retailers where customers have complained about items being posted from abroad.
Also, be sure to keep an eye on the postage costs as this can sometimes eat into any discounts. Usually postage is only a minor expense and an extra £5-10 when you’re already saving £100 isn’t really anything to worry about. You should also make sure you understand what insurance cover is offered on the transportation of your goods, just in case your package gets lost in the post.
Looking online, you may often wonder how and why the price differentials can be so big. For example, a quick search for the popular Panasonic Lumix TZ20 travel compact reveals that it will cost you around £200-£230 should you choose to buy it from a well-known online retailer, however look a bit harder and you’ll also find the same TZ20 going for as little as £160 should you opt to buy from one of the many grey import specialists trading out of Hong Kong (but who often, and misleadingly, claim to operate from the UK).
Our advice is to steer well clear of these grey imports. While you might save yourself a few quid in the short-term, it can all too often come at a greater cost elsewhere. One of the most common problems with going down the grey import route is that many foreign sellers will, at best, only be able to offer a standard manufacturers’ one-year worldwide warranty. Take it from us; getting a warranty claim processed if your camera breaks down outside of the country it was originally purchased in can be a real headache.
Other common problems with the grey import route include cameras that arrive with instruction manuals printed solely in Mandarin Chinese, power cables that come with US plugs and, in the most extreme (and unlucky) cases, demands from HMRC that import taxes be paid on your goods before they are released on to you. The simple way to avoid all of this is to avoid grey imports altogether.