June 15, 2009

You Get What You Pay For

A few months ago I went on a virtual shopping spree. I spent a chunk of change buying summer clothes on some of my favorite discount shopping Web sites. I would come home and for a few days there, big boxes would be sitting in our foyer with my name on them. It was exciting until I would take these things out, try them on and realize they did not fit. Then I'd spend the following weekend hitting up the UPS store to send most of my purchases back.

There are advantages of online shopping, such as no lines, no commuting and no sifting through endless racks of discount T-shirts. But there is the obvious disadvantage of not being able to try on anything. I don't know about you all, but I'm never the same size twice. This makes online shopping a guessing game. Shopping for electronics is a bit easier. I got my replacement iPod on eBay (for a third of what I bought it for) and a new watch. I also got my additional camera lens online. It was an Amazon purchase.

Last week I was determined to get another camera lens. I was planning a shoot with a few friends down by the lake, and I really wanted a new lens for this shoot. In reading some photo blogs, I was determined that my next lens should be a good portrait lens with a wide aperture. I found just the lens I wanted and could have easily ordered it online. However, its reviews said the auto focus wasn't compatible with my particular camera. Not wanting to plop down a bunch of money on something I wasn't sure I'd be able to use, I opted for an in store purchase.

I took my lunch hour last Thursday and visited a local camera store - Helix. They have an amazing selection. Within minutes of my walking into the store, one of the staff was pulling the lens for me to try on my camera. And as soon as I mentioned I had the Nikon D60, he did something surprising. He proceeded to talk me out of buying something I was pretty set to purchase. I'd even budgeted for it.

He reasoning was sound, and I couldn't argue with someone who has superior knowledge of photography. I honestly was surprised that in this economic climate an employee would talk a customer out of a purchase. And then it hit me. There is something else that I've missed in all my online purchases. I have missed the benefit of talking to someone who is knowledgeable about the product they sell. Someone who has knowledge that could actually assist me in my purchase. It's a sad fact that most people in retail these days don't get much respect or pay. However, there are people who work in businesses that are absolutely passionate about the things they sell. The downside to this passion though is this guy has now convinced me I need the $400 version of this lens - a considerable amount more than the one I was planning to purchase.

A few months ago I was reading a post by a blogger I follow. She was discussing her dilemma regarding purchasing her wedding dress. She found a dress she loved at a local dress shop and then proceeded to find the exact same dress online for $200 cheaper. The question then became did she buy the dress online and save the money or did she talk to the store owner and see if she could lower the price. The comments were interesting and displayed a variety of opinions. One commenter in particular, I remember, said she's often frustrated by the number of people who come into her parents' business to try things out and then will leave to purchase these same items online for cheaper. In other words, her parents do the work and someone else makes the sale.

It's something I've been giving a lot of thought to lately. It's the reason why even though I have a Border rewards card, lately I've shopped at a local independent bookstore. And it's also why when I do decide to purchase another lens, I will go back to Helix and gladly spend my money.


kelsalynn said...

Oh man, I have this same dilemma! I'm glad to read that I'm not the only one. I try to shop at local, non-chain, "expert" stores because the customer service and advice is second to none. But it does come at a price.

I like the idea of saying you've found it cheaper online and wonder if they'll meet you. I like that idea a lot and I've never considered doing that.

Amy said...

I should mention that this blogger in the end did call and try to haggle the price of the dress. It did not go well (read the update at the end of her post for details) but there's nothing saying you can't try. She just had a bad experience.