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What All Videographers Ought to Know About Shopping Online

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As a video producer you might not find your specialized gear at your corner electronics store, so you find yourself shopping online.

The proverbial Black Friday, followed by Cyber Monday attempts to get you into their establishments started their holiday bargains sooner than later - on Thanksgiving day or even earlier. Thanksgiving in the U.S. means football, family gathering and holiday shopping. The internet is wondrous place to shop but we often hit the "Buy Now" button with trepidation. Before you buy, check out Videomaker's tips on navigating cyberspace shopping this year.

According to comScore, a site that measures online sales, U.S. eCommerce was up 15%  in the third quarter of this year, compared to last year. eCommerce, of course, is online shopping; and due to the lack of brick-and-mortar stores for our specialty toys, most video producers make at least one online purchase in their lifetime. Here are some Do's and Don'ts from some online shopping watchdogs, retailers and old-fashioned Common Sense.



While Shopping Online:
1. DON'T: Shop at Unsolicited Sites.
A current scam going around Facebook is for a Costco voucher for $100 - $1000 dollars, and it's spreading like wildfire. You'd think that Internet scams like this and “You’ve Won $10,000,000” are obvious, but they must work because there are too many arriving in my email daily to make me think no one could be that stupid to fall for them. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping, you're going to find even more scams like this.
    While we're online shopping, we get daily pitches from legitimate companies that we’d do business with and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference when compiling your holiday wish list. However, unless you’ve signed up for their weekly advertising newsletter, that ‘pitch’ for a good deal might be a camera in sheep’s clothing. Rule number one: If THEY contacted you, and not the other way around, unless you've signed up to receive their eNewsletter, move on.
   
2. DO: Buy From Authorized Dealers.
Many companies that manufacture products don't sell them, so you have to shop from a retailer, and there are LOTS of them online! One tip-off is the domain address. If a company's name and website is "CameraBusiness.com", but the pitch comes from a different domain addy, you can bet it's probably not legit.  If you're still unsure, go directly to the company's site that manufactures the product you wish to sell and see if they suggest authorized dealers they support.

3. DON'T: Drop Your Credit Card Number Down too Eagerly!
Don't get so excited by a Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal that you forget your common sense. Before you give out any personal information, check to see if the site is a secured site. AARP warns to watch out for "cybersquatters," bogus groups that want to part you from your hard-earned money by stealing or altering the web address of popular companies. Check that the pages you actually order your purchases from begin with "https://" instead of  just the usual "http://." The "s" at the end means it is secure.

4. DO: Use the same credit card every time.
If you can, try to dedicate one credit card only for online purchase use, so you can watch online shopping history closely and not get caught with your guard down.

5. DON'T: Use an ATM card for online purchases.
ATM purchases pull directly from your savings or checking account and it's just like sending cash - you have no recourse if things go astray.

6. DO: Check with your credit card company about their policy on insurance, disputes and refunds.
Some credit card companies, like American Express, will back you up if there's a problem with the purchase.

7. DON'T: Buy Gray Market items - no matter how good the price.
Gray market products are often legal goods, but they can be used, refurbished or products that aren't sold in your country which means your gray market purchase might not include a valid warranty and, you have no recourse from the products' manufacture if there's an issue.

8. DO: Buy Warranteed Parts.
If your purchase is sold "As Is", then you get what you pay for - you have no recourse if the product doesn't work or was damaged in shipping.

9. DON'T: Buy on impulse - 'nuff said!

10. DO: Research: And not just one, but several sites.
Buying a $1000 to $3000 camera is exciting. But do your research and know what you're buying. Read the user forums, and understand when a forums "sponsor" is giving a spiel and not just an honest user's opinion. Check sites like bizrate.com and pricegrabber.com for pricing and features, watchdog sites like Consumer's Reports, specialized user forums and product reviews from companies like Gizmodo, Engadget and Videomaker. Our active forum moderators and members share information candidly and with confidence and no fear - there's always help there.  

11. DO: Insist on Factory Fresh Products.
If you’re buying new, you should expect to get new – and that means the product should be sealed in the original box that was packed in the manufacturer’s factory.

As illustrated in these photos, the seal belongs only to the company that manufacturers your product. Some companies use a different form of "factory freshness" and if in doubt, find out from the manufacturer directly. Packing boxes might not have a seal, but the product box inside should indicate that there's been no tampering. Why is this important? Some companies offering you a bargain do so by not including the batteries, cables, chargers or even the user manuals - you have to purchase these separately. Canon, for instance, might not have a seal on the box, but the cables and user manuals will be in sealed plastic bags and the battery shrink-wrapped.

Warrantees, Guarantees and Warnings:
12. DON'T: Buy Out-of-Stock items.
If you feel you MUST buy now, even if it's not in stock, be aware of the date they will ship your purchase to you. Pre-orders and out-of-stock orders shouldn't be charged to your card until the product ships.

13. DON'T: Buy the Extended Warranty.
It sounds like good backup plan, but it helps the reseller, not you. According to Consumer Reports, the non-profit no-ad magazine published by the watchdog group Consumers Union, 50% of the extended warranty goes to the store that sold it to you. Most extended warranties are supposed to kick in after the products' original warranty runs out, but most issues you'll have with a product are going to happen during that first year of use. And your rights to a fair deal might be covered by your own state law. "For most purchases," says Consumer's Reports, "state law gives consumers the right to receive a product that does what it’s supposed to do, is free of substantial defects, and lasts a reasonable amount of time. This so-called implied warranty of merchantability can expand your rights beyond any written warranty."

14. DO: Buy Proper Insurance Coverage.
Accidents do happen, and in many cases your equipment might be protected under your business insurance - and if you are earning an income with your gear, it - and you - should be properly insured with a film or video producer's policy. You can also add to your homeowner's or renter's insurance, too, to protect new purchases that also covers other electronics. Check your policy.

15. DON'T: Believe Online Raves.
So-called testimonials from people you don't know who are "friends of friends of friends" on social networking sites are paid to write or video their love of a product. I have a friend that keeps posting news about some people buying $2000 electronics for $20 on online auction sites - but these "shills", never give details. the old adage "if it's too good to be true it probably isn't" should have been written in the electronic age... you get what you pay for, and an Unbelievably Good Deal is usually good for the seller, not the buyer.

16. DO: Buy through Companies You can Trust.
In this day and age this isn't as easy as talking to your trusted neighborhood mechanic. Videomaker has taken a stand against unscrupulous advertisers in the past - our reputation hinges on theirs - and we have dropped advertisers that we found to be operating deceptive sales practices. Some companies like Adorama, B&H Photo, Videoguys and a host of others have been with Videomaker almost since issue #1, and we trust and use them, too. Companies advertise to let you know about their latest products and goods. Unfortunately the corrupt, exploitative, and shady companies also spend a lot of money on online advertising. Videomaker can't - and won't authenticate all of our advertisers, but we take complaints seriously.
    Look for an "About Us" or "Our Guarantee" or other such link on a company's site that tells you exactly what you should expect from a purchase. The Videoguys site, for instance,  is full of helpful information to guide you to the best buying decision and purchases come with a 30 day satisfaction guarantee and free tech support.
    JVC's website carries this statement: "... JVC has carefully identified a select group of online retailers who share our high standards and have made a commitment to provide you with information, support and service. "
    The site goes on to state they chose these companies because, among other things, they promise to maintain in-stock inventory, train personnel to know how the products work, provide customer service staff for purchasers and provide either an in-house warranty program or set up a service through an authorized JVC service center.

The shopping season is upon us, whether we're ready of not, and if you're looking for bargains on Black Friday or Cyber Monday - remember to just take your time, don't get caught up in the hype! As more brick and mortar specialty stores go by the wayside, video producers are finding that if they want to see the gear first hand, the chance to do so is diminishing and they’re stuck with a virtual check under the hood. Yes, we all love to cruise the internet looking at cool gear and things we dream about, but when it comes to recycling that old camcorder and plopping down $3000 for a new high-end camcorder, you usually want to look it over first, but when you can't, you have to rely on research as the next best thing. And remember, for online especially: The phrase that pays: "caveat emptor" - Buyer Beware. Happy hunting...

Jennifer O’Rourke is Videomaker’s Managing Editor.
 

Primary image courtesy of: Bigstock.com

November 16th, 2012