The Grey Market & The Online Digital Camera Hustle


When I started MonsterFresh.com, I didn’t expect it to receive the amount of traffic that it did and I definitely didn’t expect it to arrive so quickly.  I know that most people would view this as a positive dilema to be in, as do I, but I was left unprepared in a few areas.  I am still trying to taper down the responsibilities that I have outside of the site and to lock down a consistent writing staff.  Considering that I have been doing almost all of the writing, editing, photo imaging, research, etc. by myself lately, it has understandably affected the regularity of content.  Fortunately, I am more concerned with consistency of quality, rather than with having a consistent amount of content.  If that was my priority I could just swipe AP articles, turn MonsterFresh into a dump site for links, or, do what most of these internet “bloggers” do, which is take some bullshit photo of a celebrity from somewhere else and write a worthless dated comment underneath it.  Trust me, I don’t handle the site the way that I do because I am unaware of the traffic possibilities of a site like I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER? but, allow me to finally and clearly state my feelings officially: “As far as I am concerned, that site can suck the stripes off of a zebras cock.” I find staring at kitten calendar images and eating Nilla wafers in gem sweaters to have the same emotionally diluted creepiness of Misery’s Annie Wilkes and to be born of a perversion that parallels taking whip-its in a terry cloth bathrobe to nugget porn.

The main issue that I am currently concerned with trying to remedy for the site is technological.  I tried to keep my life as low-tech as possible for years, and that’s part of why the internet medium and its possibilities are still fascinating to me.  I always hope, especially with the interviews, that the following messages come through of, “We don’t do anything outside the realm of attainability.  We don’t have any previous elite credentials.  We don’t even have access to very high-tech equipment, but we do care about real interactions and in representing and in writing from viewpoints that the majority of readers aren’t already drowning in.” Sure its validating to try and successfully build a shelter out of gum wrappers and have it shield you from a tornado, but eventually you might want to get some fucking wood, maybe even a little paint, and throw something together that you don’t have to hot glue or duct tape every other day just to keep it functional.  If I’m going to get photo passes for a Ween concert, I should be able to use that opportunity to get some choice shots fired off , if I want to throw it up on the site conveniently, I should have a decent digital camera, and, if I get a nice photo, I’m going to want the resolution to be good enough for me to be able to enlarge and mount the image.  I knew that I would be receiving a $500 check in the mail soon and that I needed to utilize the opportunity to help step it up in the technology department.

After checking out reviews on CNET and surfing around on sites like DPReview, I settled on the Nikon D80.  It’s a midrange Digital SLR that looked perfect for me.  The reviews are very good and NIKON has always manufactured top of the line products.  I then started typing in D80 searches into google and sites started popping up.  Some of the first sites that are going to pop-up on a google search for DSLR’s are going to be sites like ShopCartUSA.com.  These types of sites (Diduprice.com, Everyprice.com etc.) gather prices from around the net and present them in one place with the intention of making comparison shopping easier.  There will, many times, be a chart with internet camera stores and links posted vertically down the left side.  Each category to the left of these company’s will provide the shopper with various information about the product such as price, customer ratings for that particular distributor, and the availability.  Please keep in mind that the availability always seems to read that the products are currently “IN STOCK“.

I went with a company called BestPriceCameras.com and with their D80 kit #3 which was priced @ $549.  The following is listed as being included in the kit on the site:

1) Nikon D80, digital camera body w/US Warranty
2) 28-200 f/2.5-6.3 auto focus lens
3) 1GB memory card
4) Card Reader
5) LCD Screen Protectors
6) Lens Cleaning kit
7) Deluxe Case
8) Cap Keeper
9) Full Size Tripod
10) Lens Pouch
11) Wrist Strap
12) UV Filter

I noticed that in mentioning every single item in the kit down to the wrist strap, a battery was noticeably missing.  I tried to call and question them about if a battery would actually be included but it was past business hours.  I ordered the camera anyway and received a confirmation email that thanked me for ordering through them and read “Please allow a minimum of two business days for order processing.”  The date that I received this email was on Sat. April 5th and the site promised a free upgrade to express shipping.  I believe that it was on Monday the 7th that I was contacted with a voicemail.

The voicemail that was left sounded confusing.  I swear the man calling said something in reference to light repair.  I called the number left for me and, when I reached the caller, he asked me what kind of battery I wanted to have shipped off with my camera.  It didn’t come with one but I could add a 2 or 4 hr battery to the shipment.  He said that the 2hr battery was on sale for $149 and that the 4hr battery was about $199.  I was on my way out the door to go to work and told him that I hadn’t thought about it and didn’t have much time.  I asked him if he was packaging for shipping right then and he confirmed that he was, so I told him to just ship the camera without a battery.  It sounded like bullshit to me anyway and I had a feeling that I could find one for much cheaper than that.

I was still feeling good about my order at this point because I felt like I had already figured out the “catch” involved.  The price was significantly lower than most but the battery was crazy expensive.  With most products, you can save a great deal by going through ebay or craigslist, but with DSLR cameras this does not appear to be the case.  They seem to be one of the products that have an incredibly solid resale value.  The accessories, however, are much cheaper to find elsewhere and I ordered a battery for the camera off of ebay for a total of around $12 after shipping.

I had a big interview with musician Daniel Johnston scheduled for the site and I didn’t know if the battery would show up in time but, with the free express shipping, I figured that I should at least have the camera itself by then.  The day before the interview, April 16th, I already had the battery in my mail box, but had yet to have the camera itself arrive.  I call up the company and wait through what seemed like endless smooth jazz until I finally hear a ring.  Someone answers the phone with a “Hello” and then immediately hangs up on me.  I call back again and wait.  Finally, I speak to someone and ask them to check on my order.  This is the point where I find out the real catch… they don’t even have the fucking camera.

It’s back ordered” they tell me.  I tell them that is unacceptable and that it’s bullshit.  I ask why somebody told me that they were shipping it and ask them to check if there is record of that phonecall in their system.  They tell me that my file states that there was a phone call but that it did not specify what the phone call was about.  I was pissed off when they gave me an ETA of 4-6 weeks more for my order and, when I asked what they suggested I do to deal with the fact that I was pressed for time, they suggested that I buy my camera from someone else.  I had never received any follow up emails or phone calls about my order letting me know that there would be any delay.  They attributed the delay and back orders to the “terrific” deals that they offer.  The issue is that all they do is “offer“, because they definitely don’t seem to deliver a goddamn thing.  As they repeat intermittently throughout the smooth jazz waiting music, they do not charge your card until your item ships, so at least I had that going for my situation but their “special offers” were quickly losing any and all value and relevance.  What good is an upgrade on shipping if it takes forever to be sent out in the first place?  I could take a year to overnight you a package but it’s not going to do much good.  I should have cancelled the order then, but I figured that if I couldn’t find another sufficient deal within my budget by the time that the camera was in stock, I would still be in line to receive one.  Plus, at this point, I kind of had my mind set on the D80.

I did the interview without a still camera and, a few days later, found the site SonicCameras.com.  They had a similar set up to their site and even better deals.  Right now, they currently have a D80 package with both a 228-80mm and a 70-300mm lenses for only $569.  I knew that I should call them before ordering however, and its good that I did because they don’t actually have the fucking camera either.  Sonic Cameras gave me an estimated time of arrival of 2 weeks though, so I kept that in mind…. just in case.

Last Thursday, May 8th, I thought it might be time to check in and find out what the fuck was going down as far as progress with my camera order.  I knew that I was probably going to have to cancel the order so I called Sonic Cameras first to see if their shipment had arrived yet.  This time Sonic was less than helpful.  The customer service representative frankly just told me that they did not have the camera.  When I asked him about an ETA he said there was not one and that they did not have the camera.  He did not seem to concerned when I let him know that I was given a 2 week ETA last time.  His only response was to repeat that there was no ETA to give and that they did not have the camera.  Honestly, I’d rather hear that there is no ETA than to be told another lie.  This brings me to the next call that I had to make to BestPriceCameras.

I dialed BestPriceCameras again and that’s the point where shit got really fucked up and crazy.  I sat through the shitty pre-recorded music and message until some asshole answered the phone sounding like, internet sensation, Gino the Ginny.  The call went something very similar to this:

BestPriceCameras: Hey

ME: I ordered a camera over a month ago and have not received anything.  I called in and was given an ETA but wanted to check on the status of my order.

BPC: [incoherent mumbled comment]

Me: Excuse me

BPC: [more babble]

Me: I’m sorry-

BPC: [still jibberish]

ME: My order number is ….

BPC: [cutting me off and raising his voice]  What was the camera!

ME: Oh, I ordered a D80. A Nikon D-

BPC: We don’t got it

me: I ordered a kit though and-

BPC: Dude!  We don’t got it!

Me: Um… I ordered the Kit though could I just give you-

BPC: Dude, dude!

Me: I have a-

BPC: Dude, dude, dude.  We don’t got it.

Me: But my kit-

BPC: Dude, We don’t got it.  We don’t got the camera.

Me: Can I give you my order number or something to-

BPC: Dude! We don’t got it.

Me: You can’t just check my order?!

BPC: Why does it matter?  We don’t got it.

Me: They gave me an ETA of 4-6 weeks could I check on-

BPC: Dude! Dude! We don’t got it.  It doesn’t matter.  We don’t got it!

Me: What’s the ETA now?

BPC: 6-8 weeks.

Me: From now?!

BPC: Yep.

Me: It went up?  You can’t even check my order to see where-

BPC: Dude! It doesn’t matter, we don’t got it.

Me: I sent you guys my credit card number and you don’t-

BPC: Dude!  You want it?  Seven Ninety-nine.

Me: What!  I thought you didn’t have it.

BPC: We don’t got the one you ordered.

Me: I haven’t even told you the kit that I-

BPC: Doesn’t matter.  We got the one pre-packaged with the battery.  It’s just the body.

Me: What?!

BPC: Dude!  We don’t got it.  You want it?  $799.  It’s $799

Me: I have a web site and I was told that it was shipped already.  Now the ETA keeps going up.  I have celebrity interviews that I have to show up to without a cameras now and I’m getting pissed off.

BPC: Dude!  $799.

Me: Listen, I-

BPC: Dude, Dude, Dude!  We don’t got it!

Me: Can you bring up my order numb-

BPC: It doesn’t matter!

Me: Well-

BPC: Dude!  Why does it matter!

Me: I ordered a-

BPC: Does it matter?!  Why does it matter?!

Me: Because you guys keep telling me different shit when I call.  I was told that this camera was being shipped to me over a month ago.

BPC: If you are doing “celebrity” interviews you’re gonna need a battery right.

Me: No because-

BPC: Right?!  So it doesn’t matter!  Dude!  Why does it matter?!

Me: No because I bought a fucking battery, because you were supposed to have sent the camera a month ago.

BPC: Oh.

Me: Can I just get connected to someone who will actually pull up my order so that I can cancel it.

BPC: All right.

It went something similar to that fiasco.  Something very similar to a bad Jerky Boys skit.  He does connect me to someone else and, while I’m waiting, I am listening to the recorded message express to me their concern with consumer happiness and in having terrific customer service be a priority.

The man whom I was connected with said that his name was Vinny and I let him know what just occurred.  I told him that I was trying to be cool about shit at first but that I was now pissed.  He apologized so I asked for a “real” explanation.  He pulled up my order without problem and confirmed that the ETA would be 6-8 weeks.  He then explained that they are back ordered because they have low priority on the list for the shipments from the distributors.

I forgot to mention that, earlier in the day, I had checked the site to see if the camera kit was still being offered as “available”.  When I did, I saw that the price was actually being advertised more aggressively and with a n even cheaper sale price of $519.  I pointed that out to Vinny and offered that, along with the fact that they are still taking orders, as possible reasons that they are continuing to be backed up on orders and he acknowledged that was true.  I told him that I was pissed and that I would be contacting a consumer protection bureau about their Bait and Switch tactics and that, although he was helpful, I would be writing an article about this shit to post on the site.  I suggested that they take the other camera out of the fucking box and put my kit together.  He did not respond to this suggestion.   I also told him that the previous customer service dick head should get the axe and he agreed.  He apologized saying, “People like that have no social skills“.  Here’s the kicker, he also said to me, “That guy, you know… he probably hasn’t been laid in a while“.  That was actually his fucking apology; I’m not joking.  He told me that the guy’s name was Chris and that I could leave a negative comment about him on their site.  That was the best he had to offer.  Oh… and I cancelled the order.

I also called the following companies who are presently advertising the D80 and D80 kits as “In Stock” at really low prices.  Here are the results from when I called and asked them if they actually had the camera “In Stock” as they claimed:

TheCameraProfessionals.com– Sounding really lazy and half-assed.
No, I don’t

LensesNMore.com– I get the one word answer of “No” from someone who is even more lethargic than the last guy.

1WayPhoto.com–  This guy says no as well, but claims that they will have it in a week in a half.  He sound like he’s been mixing klonopin and whiskey.

PhotoDynasty– Who knows?  They might actually have it but they hung up on me twice.  The recording starts with a British woman and then goes into the same exact smooth jazz recording used by some of the other sites.  When I called back the second time, I didn’t even get to tell them the type of camera I was looking for before the tool said, “Uh, gimme a minute” and put me on hold for 10 minutes.  I could hear rustling in the background too.

I filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commision who connected me with the Consumer Protection Office in New York, where BestPriceCameras is located.  After that I called Nikon with a number I found on their website.  I asked them about any statements that they might have for the consumers in reference to the alarming amount of websites advertising to sell their products without actually having them.  Although, I was bounced around the company to multiple different departments, everyone let me know that this was not a new issue.  They also insured me that they put all authorized dealers through intense inspections and that’s why they only advise than anyone purchase a camera through one of their authorized dealers.  You can check for authorized dealers in your area through NikonUSA.com

The last man that I spoke with was extremely helpful when I told him that I was writing an article.  He mentioned something known as The Gray Market and helped direct me to literature about it.  Below is some of the more important related information I located.  It is taken directly from the Service and Support section of Nikon’s site.

What is “Gray Market”?

Generally, a manufacturer works with a single importer who can sell and support their products in a given region. The importer usually has local dealers and distributors who resell the imported products; this is called a “distribution channel”. Gray Market refers to merchandise that is imported and sold by methods other than these normal channels.

For local safety regulations and certifications (FCC, CE, UL, etc.) and government requirements a manufacturer provides special packaging (manuals in the appropriate language, power cables designed for the local receptacle, etc.) and product engineering designed to meet local codes. Manufacturers also have service and support agreements with the authorized importer.

How do I know if my Nikon product is “Grey Market”?

If the deal was just too good to be true, it probably was. One of the first indicators that a piece of Nikon merchandise might be Gray Market is if the price is considerably less than most other resellers.

Additionally, a genuine Nikon Inc. USA product will include an Owners’ Manual and Warranty Registration card in English. It will also include power cables (if applicable) designed for US style plugs. Any other language on the printed material or wrong cables indicates a Gray Market item.

Another indication of a Gray Market product would be photocopied manuals or manually created software CD’s. Nikon Inc. USA always provides professionally printed or duplicated materials with genuine products.
———————————————————–

If you are going to buy equipment online from a company that you’ve never heard of, please call in advance to verify that they even have the fucking thing.  It seems simple, as it should be, but if you don’t, things can get a whole lot more complicated then you’d ever care to deal with.

Dead C

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it’s hard to recall all of the details.

I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn’t actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room… but it wasn’t actually here… it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle.

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  • Joe Cas

    Went through exactly the same experience. Where did you decide to get your camera?

  • justwanna

    Gezus – I was looking at buying a video camera off the internet but after reading all you went thru I think I’ll just pass until I have some more cash.

    Thanks for all the great info and links – I’m bookmarking this page in case I have any issues!

  • Amandica

    What’s wrong with doing whip-it’s in your bathrobe while nugget porn is on? What if you didn’t put the Nugget Porn On yourself, and it like just happened to be on ? Does that make it O.K.?

  • JOE

    I finally got a D80 from cameta cameras on ebay with a buy it now auction. They seem to have an actual location in New York that isn’t some dude’s garage as well but they list a lot of their DSLRs on their ebay store. They have a website as well but all of their D80s were placed in auctions.

    I popped around to a lot of legitimate sites with reviews and they always seemed to have positive comments. There is a warranty and they are an authorized US dealer so if you send your camera back to NIKON for repairs they won’t tell you that it isn’t covered and to go fuck yourself. They also throw in a year subscription to a digital photo mag, 50 free photo developments and some other shit. It’s the cheapest camera that I could find but where I actually trusted the company. I’ve only had it for a couple of days but everything still seems on the up and up here.

  • jose

    I just noticed that stores like IbuyDigital.com (and related sites to this company) now they only sell grey market products. Years ago I bought a canon from a Central Digital related to IbuyDigital.com but back then they had US version of the camera. But when I tried to order from Ibuydigital a Canon 40D I expected the same smooth transaction I the one I had few years ago from their sister website Central Digital. But they send me an email to confirm the order and when I called they told me that they didn’t have in stock. I called back to check stock on the camera and a guy told me and confirmed they had the camera that I just bought. But when I called back, to my “Case agent” he was angry that caught them doing something bad and he clarify that they didn’t have the overseas version. Then I said, “what you mean overseas version?” and he angrily answered that I ordered the overseas version and they only had the US version. I told him that the website didn’t say anything about overseas or US versions. Then he ended the call very fast. If they charge my card, I’ll call citi bank to go after them because that is borderline fraud.

    Does anyone have a website to check what stores are selling Grey market products? Like a blacklist of companies.

    I found that ResellerRatings.com is very useful to find stories like yours where stores don’t mention whether is a US version or Overseas version and on top of that they try to sell you overprice crap.

  • AG

    I have to feel the full punch of a similar scam. I was given a grey market lens for 20% more money. It was sold to me as the “US version”. I was so eager to get that lens. It was more than just a switch and bait. The website is called questforcameras.com.

    It is still running and still selling my lens for even cheaper price. I think consumers should stand up and build a case against all those companies who practice such a thing and keep changing their names frequently.

    Someone should get a lesson so the rest of the scammers stop doing what they do. Obviously, the consumer protection office is not doing much really-since these issues are going for so long. I think this practice damages business and economy.

    We should have a web site were people can list their cases with as much information as possible about the seller-which usually has no physical address and a website registered through proxy-and try to make a case when all information is collected.

    Thanks for the good article.

  • Don W.

    I’m a newb when it comes to photography, and I wanted to purchase a zoom lens for my newly acquired Canon Rebel XTI. I spent hour researching the Canon 70-200 4L lens and saw Sonic Camera had it listed for 469.00. I place an order over their website and was really exited to get it.
    I got an email shortly after that saying I needed to call and confirm my order, which I thought was strange. A customer service rep. asked me again for my credit card security code and I asked him why he needed this again. He suddenly became very angry and accused me of stealing the card. I told him I already gave him that information when I placed the order but gave it to him again. He was yelling so loud that I guess he didn’t hear me and then told me he was going to cancel my order.
    I am a customer service supervisor and have worked in a high volume call center for eight years. I could not believe what I had just witnessed.
    This is where I made A REALY STUPID MISTAKE. The price on that lens was the best I could find anywhere so………….. I cooled down and called him back.
    I said can I just place the order and be done with it? He asked me what kind of camera I was going to use the lens on, and told me it wouldn’t work because of some reason I didn’t understand being new to photography. I let him talk me into a different lens (Canon 50-250 IS USM) that they have listed for 699.00, plus he would throw in a UV filter pack that sells for 199.00 al for 499.00. Sound great!
    I hung up with and googled it and it sells for about 250.00 all over the web.
    I called him back and he said those are “grey market lenses”.
    I told him I wanted to switch back to my original order for the 70-200 4L lens and he told me it already shipped. This was 20 minutes from the first phone call. If that were true they would be the officially the fastest service in the world. But he was lying.
    I paid extra to get the lens in 2 days, as of now, (8 days later) I have not received anything.
    I am an idiot and I fell for the switch and bait.
    DO NOT BE AN IDIOT LIKE ME AND BUY FROM THESE JERKS!!!!