I work at a camera store. Have been for the past 5 months. I love talking with customers about their photography interests and options. So many different experiences, so many peculiar situations. Everything from those who have accidentally attached an accessory incorrectly and can’t detach it to those who have a peculiar photographic need such as surveillance in their role as a private investigator.
I’ve also seen more antique photography equipment in the past 5 months than in the past 20 years, as folks find these gems in their homes or in relatives’ homes and try to resurrect them, looking for lenses, batteries or film to bring them back to life. One recent experience was a young lady who brought in a pinhole camera from the early 1900’s, which had apparently belonged to her grandfather’s grandfather.
On the flipside are the new photographers, who have never touched a camera and want their first purchase to be meaningful and long-standing. It’s an interesting challenge to provide them with enough information to make an informed decision while not overwhelming a customer with the thousands of technical details they could and maybe should consider.
We have great products in the store, all carefully selected to provide functionality, durability and value for dollar. Demonstrating them is so much fun and I love it when people can put a product in their hands and play with it themselves. Even better is when their face lights up because they have discovered a feature that is really meaningful to them.
Those moments have become so much more difficult during the pandemic, as suppliers are unable to produce and ship product, especially anything with a microchip. Verbally describing a product, commenting on how I use it (if I have one) and showing pictures of it in use does work to some degree, but it is not the same as having the product available for direct viewing and handling.
Customers tend to fall into three camps: those just browsing to kill time while waiting for some other activity to start elsewhere, those who are interested in a purchase but haven’t decided and want to see options for comparison, and those who know exactly what they want because they have already done the homework. In the latter case, there may still be several options to compare, and the final decision is based on actually handling the product before purchase.
So we do the dance, and maybe, just maybe, the customer will be ready to purchase. But then it happens: more often than not, the cellphone comes out, a browser page is quickly located, and the customer holds up the same product on a page on the Amazon website. It may be the Canada website or even another country’s website. And the predictable question is: Amazon is offering it for a lot less. Will you price match? Some customers casually ask, others make it a condition of the sale.
I’ve purchased many items on Amazon, and 85% of them have been good quality products that arrive and perform as advertised. 85%. The rest: not the quality expected, not the features expected, sometimes not even the item expected. And I have never bought electronics on Amazon. I have no idea what that experience is like in terms of meeting expectations.
But that’s not really the issue here. Local businesses struggle to play in the same sandbox as giants like Amazon and Walmart. Our culture seems to prize savings. People would rather have 5 items at $1.00 over 1 item at $5.00, even where quality and features are clearly different. To many, it’s a fun game – they sign up for discount programs and spend hours scouring ads to get the best deal for anything they buy. I know people personally who do that.
But not many investigate the fine print behind the savings. For example, an electronics purchase on Amazon could be sourced from a third party company nobody has heard of, from a location nobody knows where, and with warranty, return and customer service limitations that can be crippling or non-existent if needed. That item of electronics may be coming from anywhere in the world. Its warranties, if any exist, will not be honoured in Canada typically. Few buyers consider those limitations.
I’ve also heard stories from some manufacturers who state they do not use Amazon as a distribution channel, yet still find many of their products for sale there. They have no idea how that happened.
And additionally, it’s not clear how or how long the product has been stored before you buy it or how well it is handled before it reaches you. I once received an Amazon envelope that smelled of mould and mildew when opened. The product inside was still useable as it was in a plastic cover, but the experience left me reluctant to order anything else. I haven’t since.
There is the old adage: you get what you pay for. While Amazon has become successful for many reasons and for the most part, provides good products at great prices, really think about the risk you are taking when ordering expensive electronics that way. Or any expensive purchase. You may find more actual value in going to a local retailer, handling the product directly before buying, getting to know the people who will support you if you have questions, then making an informed purchase with full warranty behind it. Yes, it may cost you a few dollars more than it would on Amazon, but maybe that peace of mind is worth it.