Out of Business

It turns out that shopping for a digital SLR camera is no easy task. Based on what I already have and what I need/want, and of course, what I can (mostly) afford, I have pretty much made the decision about the make and model. So I started shopping.

I found some very low prices advertised. This made me happy, but when I got more involved, I realized the old cliche is cliche based on real-life scenarios. You know, if it sounds too good to be true…etc. For example: you place an order on-line, get a phone message and an email saying something like, “We are attempting to contact you regarding your order, please call [name of salesperson] right away.”

So you call your assigned salesperson, who isn’t there, and leave a message. Red flag number one. When you do talk to him, he tells you that if you pay this price for this camera, you only get a worthless hunk of plastic and metal that won’t even speak English to you. Red flag number two. He then proceeds to tell you that to get the thing that you thought you had already ordered will cost you an additional $500, but no one else will be able to beat this price. And he does you a favor by letting you know that any other shop claiming a lower price is a scam. Red flag number three.

At this point, you might say that you’ll think about it, do some more homework and call back. Or you might do the smarter thing and just cancel the order right then. But you do some more homework and find thousands of reviews to say that the company you have been dealing with is one of many such scams. You wonder how you had missed this information during your previous searches. You don’t quite understand how they make any money this way, but you sigh and accept the fact of it all and go to cancel your original order.

Only it’s not that simple. You can’t just talk to anyone. You have to call your assigned salesperson again. And leave him a message, which he doesn’t return. Then you will receive another “we are attempting to contact you” email, so you try again until you get through to your sales guy’s extension. And even though he will cancel the original order, he will pressure you with another hard sell and convince you that you are quite stupid for thinking that you can get a better price for this camera than the $X + $500 that the “real” package goes for at their store. You are also stupid for not realizing that the really low price was the “bait” part of their standard bait-and-switch business practice. Try not to cry before the cancellation is confirmed and you can hang up the phone with relief.

Okay, so you’re really not stupid for never having heard about this type of thing before. You tell yourself this over and over until you can almost believe yourself. You have been one of the lucky people who has had very good experiences dealing with on-line retailers in the past. But if you think back on it, you realize that your on-line buying experiences have been mostly through sites like eBay and Amazon. The big guys. Though sometimes you’ve gone through individuals and small “marketplace” sellers, in my opinion, that counts as going through the big guys, too.

So now it’s time to check eBay for your camera. This is, obviously, after you have checked all local retailers and big names like Best Buy, Circuit City, Ritz, Wolf, etc., and you feel armed with a more accurate sense of what this piece of technology is actually worth. So eBay has a seller or two who list the same item for about $100 less than the best price you found at those other places. So, okay, you read the fine print and a hundred entries of positive feedback, and it actually comes as no surprise at all that people mention “a follow up call,” “pushy sales person,” “up-sell,” etc. Also, the seller’s policies and practices read almost verbatim like the policies posted on those other “scam” sites. Cross eBay off the list.

Sigh.

Throughout the whole process, there has been an internal debate going on. The camera I really want is, of course, fairly expensive, especially now that I’ve come to the conclusion that I must physically walk into my local electronics franchise and pay sticker price plus 5% Virginia sales tax in order to get what I want without all the run around. An older digital SLR camera that would probably meet my needs just fine (though it has been discontinued) would cost about half as much as the expensive one, perhaps even less than that because it would most likely be a used or refurbished item. But that lesser camera, because of its discontinuation, of course, is only available through on-line retailers. Vendors that, big shock, I no longer trust. So do I spend the extra money and get what I really want? Or do I start this run around all over to find a quality used, refurbished, or leftover stock older model from somewhere else?

After all this headache, I’m thinking that since the price difference is money that is available to me, I might as well just get what I want and write up some kind of contract with myself that this will be the absolute last fancy camera that I will buy until I start making some money from the output. I also don’t want to regret buying an older model with fewer features in case my needs expand as I practice and use the thing. But it’s such a big expense. And parting with money is something that has never come very easily to me. So the final choice has yet to be made.

Reflecting on this experience has caused me some trouble. There was a reason that I never really wanted to be a salesperson. It’s because companies and people like the ones I have been dealing with are intimidating and make a consumer feel stupid and useless. They give the sales profession a bad name. If I say that I’m in sales, it’s not perceived as a good thing, even though I’m with a company and backing a product that I believe in with my whole heart. It turns people off. It alienates my friends when I only want to help them. But more than that, this idea, or fact, I guess, that the salesperson=predator, just gets me more angry at the businesses and people who treat their clients and customers this way. I want to destroy them. But the only thing I can really do is give my business to someone else and advise others to be wary.

I’m sure that there are plenty of electronics and camera retailers who do legitimate business and treat their customers with respect. However, I might never encounter those companies now because I have been jaded by this experience. It makes me sad for those “good guys” who might end up out of business. It makes me completely irate for the “bad guys” who stay in. And it really makes me want to stand out and rework the “salesperson” stereotype into something more positive so that I can make my own business a success.

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