Being an engineer and a gadget geek, I know how easy it is to confuse a branded product (especially in electronics) with a counterfeit one and get cheated by a ‘creative’ salesman. That’s why, I usually stick with the trusted shops, when I shop for gadgets, even if that means I am paying a premium for the name. I always try to go with guideline, “If its too good to be true, its probably not true”. Even with these safeguards, I almost got cheated over the weekend at a shop in Funan mall and learned a couple of things from the experience.
I have to admit that I am a sloppy negotiator, especially when it comes to buying a gadget. Usually I go straight to one of the reputed shops which quoted the lowest price over phone and buy it without a lot of bargaining. This time, it was a Canon Speedlite I was looking for, along with couple of other accessories and I decided to go to Funan Digital mall, Singapore. Since I was not short on time, I decided to put my negotiation/people skills to test.
I went around asking for the prices at various shops. The first shop I walked into was named 25 Cam (#03-25). The salesperson quoted a price which was around S$30 less than the price I had in my mind. “Wow!”, I thought, “a nice bargain and that too at the first shop. Today might be my lucky day”. I told him I’ll be back and went searching for better deals.
After an hour or so, I finished my recon. All of the other shops quoted a price similar to the one which I came up with, after my research. I had a decision to make. On one hand, I had a good offer from the first shop. One the other hand, couple of things nagged me at the back of my head.
1. Is the offer too good to be true? But, I countered with the argument that its not a discount of 20-30%, but somewhere around 10%. (I didn't calculate exactly how much, my mistake).
2. If this shop provided such bargains regularly, why haven’t I heard about it in any online forums? But then again, I don’t necessarily know about all the camera shops in Singapore, may be I have missed this one.
I went to the first shop and let him know about the other things I wanted - a neutral density filter, rechargeable batteries and a diffuser. I wanted a Hoya filter and that’s when the salesman started lecturing me about why Hoya doesn't produce a good ND filter. He offered me a Kenko filter, which in his argument, is better than Hoya. But I could see the real reason why he was pushing me a Kenko - he was out of Hoya 77mm ND filter. But I calmed myself thinking “if I buy couple of things from here, I might be able to get a better price”. Again, my mistake.
Once I had all the things I wanted, I told him to give me the final amount. That’s when the salesman told me to look at a third party flash with a better performance & a similar price but with no obligations to buy. “Alarm!”, a red flag was raised in my head of a possible fraud. I was never fond of third party products. But, I decided to go along with him as I didn't want to offend him.
He told me how the third party flash is better by having a better zoom with support up to 105mm and Canon doesn't (it’s a plain lie) and how it has a better guide number than the Canon one (the guide number he quoted was also wrong) and that the third party one being made in Japan even though he was unable to show me the “Made in Japan” print on the unit. When he saw that I was not convinced, he started to demonstrate. He opened a brand new looking lens cover, and attached it to an EOS 7D and the flash unit. Later he put it back the same way. BIG MISTAKE! If he is opening a brand new cover to demonstrate to a customer and putting it back the same way, how can I trust the unit he is offering me is a genuine product?
I was beginning to think of a way to back off from the deal. I asked for the final quote saying I am going with the Canon unit. That’s when his true colors came out. He said, the price quoted was exclusive of GST (Goods & Services tax) and that I have to pay extra money. (The new price came around the price quoted by other shops). When I tried to argue, his reply was, “I won’t get the money, it goes to the Lee’s (a.k.a the Singapore Government)”. But by then, he had already started putting the stuff back because he knew that I had already made up my mind.
I was shocked and relaxed at the same time; shocked because of the extend of lies he told me and how nearly I got cheated and relaxed because I didn't get cheated in the end. I waited a bit to decide what to do next and simply walked out of the door. Later at home, a simple internet search showed me that lot of people have fallen prey to these techniques.
I learned a couple of things from the encounter,
1. When there is a voice inside your head telling you about a possible fraud, better listen to it. Proceed with extreme caution.
2. Always ask whether the final price is “inclusive of GST”. Later I realized that if I had done a simple calculation, I could have figured out the price difference was exactly 7%.
3. If there is a difference of more than 5-10% from the consensus price, most likely there will be a catch. Find it.
4. Its OK to try and find the lowest price, but be prepared to face situations like these where you can be harassed and let down. Be ready to take what you have learned and move on.
Above all, I realized that there are people who lie through their teeth, at your face, to sell things (sometimes faulty), for a profit of a couple of dollars (sometimes, even the reputed stores). These are the ones who doesn't have any ethics, who doesn't know the values of honor and integrity. So it is the responsibility of us - the customers - to be vigilant and not to fall prey to these techniques.