Videographers are always looking for the next best thing in our video production needs. But every video producer knows you can't always find it at your local department or electronics store.
It’s easy to get caught up in the bargain shopping hype this time of year, whether it’s for gift giving or our own wants and needs. However, before you lunge from the Thanksgiving feast to stand in line for a midnight Black Friday event; before you pull out your precious credit card to buy that Gotta Have It piece of gear at an unbelievable price online; please take a breath and think about what you’re really buying, and learn a lesson I learned too late! Here are a couple quick reminders of a few things to watch for, before you buy. For more online shopping tips, check out our feature What All Videographers Ought to Know About Shopping online.
A. Heed the Hype
All that Black Friday hype is just to get you to spend your money, so, really, you’re not “saving”, you’re spending. Remember that.
So first off, is it truly a bargain that you can’t buy after the first of the year when you’re not in the heat of battle? Last week, I started receiving daily emails from a large retailer about a preview item I looked at on their site a few months ago. This constant barrage of "buy now before it's too late" emails made me nervous that my desired item was going to sell out, and I almost bought it right then and there. However, a cursory search around the net and at walk-in stores showed me that the same product was selling for the same price everywhere. Due to shipping costs, I was better off buying locally in that case.
When the newest latest release of a gadget is announced, do some research. Do you really need the new features? Look into buying its predecessor from companies looking to dump their old stock for the new gear, or getting it used from someone looking to upgrade.
Never buy into the hype, unless the deal is truly worth it. A tip about sale items: would you buy it if it wasn’t on sale? If not, the purchase isn’t worth the deal at any price.
B. Avoid Return Risks
Shopping online at a company that has a retail shop in your town doesn’t mean you can return it to that physical store. Also, brick and mortar stores often won’t honor product warranties from online purchases. Additionally, shipping costs can add expenses to your overall “bargain”, unless you spend a certain amount, and you might not get it all back if you do return the product.
I recently bought an item that was normally selling at $225.00 for a “special” price of $179.00, that ended up costing me $195.00 with shipping. But when I returned it I was credited with only $154.00 Why? The “special” had a disclaimer that due to supply and demand, a re-stocking percentage was required, and I wasn’t going to get the shipping costs reimbursed. I lost $41.00 and am in dispute with my credit card company. Who’s reaping the rewards, now?
When shopping online, read the fine print in your shipper's contract. As a video producer, most gear is acquired by shopping online, so it's a good habit to shop at the same trusted site you frequent often, even if the cost of your item is a bit more than at a site you'll never use again.
C. Recognize the Source of Online Reviews
If you take nothing from this story, take this: online reviews are plagued with paid shills, masquerading as real users to gain your confidence about a product or online retailer site. Read online reviews with a wary eye and cautious demeanor. According to Consumer Reports, the non-profit consumer testing and watchdog organization, the best way to research online reviews is to look for facts, not emotional statements. “This product stinks!” isn’t as valuable as a statement describing how the product performed during a particular use. Track reviews on known sites like Consumer Reports, who has no vested interest in the products, and on user forums and from professional reviewers who work with the same products they review.
Be wary of reviews of a product that’s glowing on one site, and is grievous on another. Watch for balance. The best way to know that online reviews are real is if they offer valid research-able facts.
Finally, compare the user reviews with those on professional video production sites, if they line up pretty much, you should be safe. As a side note: also pay attention to how sites dedicated to online reviews operate. This scary story about a woman who wrote a bad comment about an online review company backfired in a terrible way: by not reading the fine print that said if users write negative reviews they will be "fined" ended up costing her thousands in fees and a lowered credit score! Can they do this? According to the review site's legal firm, yes, they can. She's in dispute over the charges, but the credit reporting companies are refusing to work with her to clear her poor credit rating.
As always, caveat emptor: buyer beware – Don't buy into the Black Friday hype just to save a few bucks. Producers looking for video production gear often have no choice, but shopping online is always risky, and if it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Keep your wallet closed and your eyes open. The bargains are out there, and with a little savvy research and shopping restraint, you’ll get what you need at a price you can live with. Happy shopping!