How to Deal with Dealers

Photo dealers, like cameras, come in a staggering variety of sizes, types, and quality grades. Whether they’re found in small, local camera stores, big department-store chains, discount houses, or mail-order companies, they all have one thing in common—they’d like to make a sale.

At the elite end of the dealer spectrum are salespeople who know what they’re talking about, honestly want to help you get the best equipment for your purpose, take time explaining features and options, and have competitive prices. At the other end are quick-buck artists who are simply out to make the most profit in the least amount of time and could hardly care less about your long-term satisfaction or repeat business. Many dealers, especially those with the lowest prices, fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

What constitutes an ideal dealer? It really depends on you. If you’re generally in the market for new equipment and know exactly what you want before walking into the store, your most important criteria may be low prices, reliability and liberal return policies. If you expect your dealer to take time providing information and guidance, it may be well worth spending a few bucks extra to go to a full-service dealer.

Whatever type of dealer you choose, when you find a good, honest one who steers you right, stick with him—a photo enthusiast can have no better ally. And if you do encounter one of the dishonest, discourteous bad apples, run for the nearest exit or hang up the phone. The following tips should help you to figure out which dealers are which.

1. Do your homework. Dealing with salespeople is a lot easier if you know what equipment you want and have a good idea of what it should cost. To narrow down your selection, mull over your photographic needs and wants, then read test reports, news reports, brochures, and ads on equipment that interests you. To check prices, look them up in newspaper or other print ads or scan the mail-order ads in this publication. Once you cull your choices, examine the products in person.

2. Ask questions. The quickest way to find out whether a dealer knows what he’s talking about and is honest is to ask a lot of questions. A good dealer will know the features of the equipment he’s selling and be will to explain differences between competing brands. His opinions will be presented in a reasonable manner. Beware of dealers who disparage major brands with strong language or try to foist off little-known brands. Be suspicious of dealers who are loath to sell you what you want, refuse to honor their advertised prices, or charge extra for normally included items like lens caps and battery covers.

3. Stand your ground. Once you’ve come to an informed decision on buying a particular piece of equipment, stick with it. Don’t let yourself be switched to something else because the item you want isn’t in stock or you can get a “great deal.” And don’t settle for the salesman’s demonstrator—you want a fresh camera in a box.

4. Keep your cool. If a dealer says something outrageous, has an obvious hidden agenda, is impolite, ignores you, or takes you for a fool, don’t get mad or waste your time arguing with him. Just depart gracefully. Don’t go back. And warn all your friends about his business. If you’re actually cheated, report it to the Better Business Bureau and local or state consumer-protection agencies.

5. Check the record. Before you make a large purchase from a store unknown to you or in a strange city call the local Better Business Bureau, consumer-protection agency, or the consumer advocate of the local newspaper. Even good stores may have a few complaints on file, but if you find that a store has records of excessive problems, steer clear of it.

6. Expect the expected. Don’t expect the harried clerk at a discount store to debate the fine points of four different point-and-shoots in the midst of the lunch-hour crunch. Don’t exprect the mail-order phone salesperson to be a technical whiz who knows exactly which autofocus system does what. In short, be reasonable. Don’t pay more than you have to, but don’t expect the local camera store that lets you browse to meet the low discount price to the penny.

7. Be fair. Don’t spend 45 minutes picking a dealer’s brain and then buy the camera down the street for $10 less. If his price is way out of line, tell him so and give him a chance to make the sale. Not only will this assuage your conscience, it will encourage good dealers to stay that way.

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