Sunday, January 4, 2009

Favorite On-Line Resources for Photography Products and Services - Part 1 - Introduction

People have been asking me where I shop, where I get my camera equipment from and what on-line services I use. I understand why people ask because buying on-line is always a risky business (no, not men dancing around in their underwear.) How does one go about protecting themselves from fraud, theft of identity and theft of credit card information?

The reason people ask me is because of two reasons, one my computer background and two because they know I buy a lot of stuff on-line. Hence, if I can do it safely, then they should also be able to do it also.

Before we get started though I must mention why I shop on-line and why I usually buy from the United States (I Live in Canada). Convenience, Stock, Selection and saving money are all good reasons. The down sides are shipping, hassles with returns, waiting times, potential fraud and theft of personal information. I will address all these issues.

Why I Buy On-Line (and a Government Rant thrown in)

Buying on-line is an easy and convenient way to purchase things. It is simple and usually you can always find what you are looking for. When shopping locally in Canada or in smaller towns, finding certain items can be very difficult or even impossible. And then, if some small specially shop has the product, they usually charge way too much for it.

Another reason is for stock. A good example is books. I buy a lot of books every year and often the local book stores do not have the books you are looking for. With computer books or Photography and Software books very often these shops have old outdated books. Many for example are still selling Adobe Photoshop CS2 books. Why would I want that when I am now using CS4?

So yes, I buy for the convenience of finding things that are usually not available to me locally. The last big reason I buy on-line is to save money. Now I do need to explain myself here because I am in a special situation that most people are not in.

Living in Canada we generally get charged more for many products because the purchasing power of the Canadian Companies is much lower that the purchasing powers of their American counterparts. Canon Canada for example will usually only buy about one tenth or less of the same item that Canon USA will pick up. Because of the much larger quantities purchased in the USA, they get much bigger discounts and results in lower street prices.

In Canada we also deal with several other situations that make a big difference. Our Canadian dollar and what I call the 'fix'. Our dollar is usually worth much less than U.S. dollars so purchasing similar products overseas usually cost importers more Canadian Dollars than U.S. dollars. Lastly, even though many American importers regulate their "Advertised" prices across the U.S. their street prices usually (not always) vary based on what a good free economy dictates. In Canada many importers not only regulate the prices that retailers can sell their merchandise for but in many cases also regulate the prices retailers "sell" products for.

These setting or "fixing" of prices contravenes what a good free economy is all about but they also break Canadian Laws. These laws however are old and archaic and are very hard if not impossible to enforce and generally the governments just ignore the problems.

Because of large consumer pressure for the Government to look into many of the "price fixing" issues within a company and it's retailers and the monopolistic "price fixing" of multiple importers and retailers, the Government has finally decided to step in and do something. The outrage shown by consumers over the apparent price fixing in both the Gasoline industry and in the Wireless Telecom industry has sparked the Government to take drastic steps and finally launch an investigation.

These steps have finally brought about charges and these charges are being investigated with all the moneys that the government can send at it. What are they investigating? Well the Chocolate Bar industry of course! Yes, despite all the apparent major and flagrant abuses the government chose to go after the Chocolate Bar manufactures. Yes, apparently when you buy a chocolate bar you get ripped off, as the fix is in!

Back to buying on-line. So yes, I buy on-line to save money and I do save a lot of money. Now, not everything you purchase in the United States will save you money and just like buying from Costco or Sam's Club you need to watch your prices. When purchasing on-line you must consider the base price, dollar exchange rates, taxes, duties and shipping costs. These are all moot if you are purchasing something you really want that you just can't purchase locally.

My special case that I mentioned is that I live near the border and more importantly is that I have both a United States Postal Service P.O. Box and a place in the U.S. to have purchases shipped to. Not all companies will ship to a P.O. Box and most courier services like UPS and Fed-Ex will also not ship to P.O. Boxes. I have a business address that I can have things shipped to by Couriers.

As I travel to the Unites States every week to get my mail and purchase cheaper gasoline, it is very convenient to pick up a parcel. These items I always declare at customs when entering back into Canada and always pay the Taxes. Note that you do save money on these taxes also. I mention this because people always tell me it's not worth buying from the U.S. as one will need to pay the G.S.T. and P.S.T. (Federal and Provincial Taxes) when bringing products back into Canada. Here is how the Tax savings works. If I purchase a Camera Lens from the U.S. for a total of $850.00 Canadian dollars instead of buying a lens for $1200.00 Canadian dollars in Canada, I pay GST and PST on $850.00 and not on $1200.00. So not only do I save the original $350.00 Canadian, but I also save an additional $45.00 in taxes which gives me a total savings of $395.00 dollars.

Not all my purchases are this large, but the same principles apply. I would guess however that 95% of my purchases are under $50.00.

In Part 2 of this blog post I will discuss how I protect myself from Fraud and other issues and in Part 3 I will let you know what sites I purchase products from and in Part 4 I will let you know what sites I purchase services from.

Part 2 is available here: http://eyesonphotography.blogspot.com/2009/01/favorite-on-line-resources-for_05.html

© 2009 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.02 - January 2009)

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux