14 November 2011

Setting the foundation - "Where should I buy it from?"

An anxious call from a friend gave me the idea of this post. This is a short write-up on my take on one of the big questions in any retail customer's mind - the point of purchase.

The very obvious options available to you are listed below. You can also rent equipment for short-term needs. I would not list it as an option right now since I am assuming that you want to "own" the equipment and are not looking for temporary/per-assignment solutions.
  • Online
  • Retail Store
  • Used equipment
  • Jugaad 
  • US se aya mera dost 

* Online
There has been an explosion of e-commerce websites that claim to offer the best deals across the spectrum of electronic items. Some of the websites with a good collection of camera equipment are Zoomin, JJMehta, eBay, Rediff. JJMehta has a reputation in Mumbai as the retailer with the best collection and prices.You should look at eBay, Rediff-Shopping and other e-commerce portals from time to time for offers or simply to be aware of the prices at which products of your interest are being traded. Purchasing over eBay is completely safe provided you study the retailer/seller before you place your order with him/her. Here is an article on precautions to be taken before placing an order on eBay and other e-commerce websites. Please do not get scared after reading the article; its only a guide to safe shopping. Most of the ideas expressed in the article on eBay shopping precautions can be applied to the practice of online-shopping in general.

Join the facebook/twitter pages of manufacturers like Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc to look for offers/contests/coupons/vouchers which can land you a discount voucher.

And there is always the option of participating in online contests to win your equipment :) Cameras are increasingly becoming the popular choice for gifts in most online contests. 

Pros: easy to search and compare; option of cash on delivery
Cons: not the best prices usually; waiting time till delivery

* Retail Store
Though this may seem to be the simplest option, a shrewd buyer would need to walk across town and visit multiple stores to get the best deal. Camera equipment usually exchanges hands at a heavily discounted price. Retailers also throw in memory cards and camera bags/tripods if the buyers haggle for 'em. To give you a rough idea of the degree of discount that you can achieve, the MRP for a Canon is Rs. 39,000. I bargained for a camera bag and a 4gb memory card and eventually signed the bill for 36k at a retail outlet, only to realize a few days later that another retailer's quoting price is 36k for the same deal. Had I been patient and checked a few other stores, I may have hit upon a better bargain. Every city has its set of preferred/popular camera retailers. Try to locate these for starters as they would try to understand your requirements and offer you genuine advice on different cameras.

Pros: usually gets you the best prices in the city; optimal for those who love to bargain :)
Cons: walking around in search of the best deal

* Used Equipment
In any electronic device, the moving parts are the ones that are susceptible to wear-and-tear/breakage. In a camera, that part is the shutter. Besides the shutter, the lens, display, battery and health of the memory card are things to look at before you buy a used camera. Pose the below questions to the current owner before you make up your mind:
  • Shutter cycles/shutter actuations: this refers to the number of times the shutter has been opened/closed or in simpler terms, the number of pics clicked. It is a good idea to not buy a camera that has clocked more than 1lac shutter actuations. Check out this website for a short list of some cameras and their recommended lives based on shutter cycles. Here is a discussion on the same topic.
  • Damage to the lens: hold the lens at varying angles to the eye in sufficient light and try to look for scratches/fungus marks on it. If the lens looks damaged, just run..run like the wind :)
  • Battery: has a batter leakage occurred in the past, while the battery was inserted in the camera? If yes, had any damage occurred to the camera? This is a question that only the owner will be able to answer.
  • Memory card: how old is it? What is the speed class of it? Does it have any bad sectors?
So unless the current owner is a trustworthy friend who wouldn't be in the process of offloading his burden onto you, I would not recommend spending heavily on used equipment since we are not talking about a few hundred Rupees here. 

Pros:  genuine user-feedback (if seller is trusted) on the equipment; low price
Cons: its a used device so may not carry warranty & can break down/under-perform as compared to a new piece

* Jugaad
If you know anyone inside the manufacturer company (Nikon, Canon for example), you can ask him/her to get it for you. Manufacturers usually offer discounts to their employees which maybe equal in amount to all or may vary depending upon the pay-grade of the employee. I procured a lens through this channel and effectively got a discount of 25% (9k instead of 12k).

Pros: price
Cons: none

* US se aya mera dost
This is my preferred channel when it comes to most pricy electronics! A Nikon camera cost me 10k less in the US as compared to India, while I got a lens for 30% less. But before you ask your friend to buy it there, ask him/her to confirm that the purchase comes with international service warranty. Do not miss out on the warranty for want of a discount.

Pros: price
Cons: waiting time

Renting equipment
You can explore this option if you want to test the equipment before you buy it, or if you need the accessories for a few days for a job. Toehold is one such company in Bangalore that rents out equipment at affordable prices.

If you can think of more options, please do let me know and I shall gladly update the post. I hope that this article has been able to help you gauge the pros-and-cons of the different channels.

Happy Clickin!

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