Up to 70% off all cameras, the sign screamed, its bright red letters unmistakable against the white background. It could have been there for months but on that day late last year, it drew me in.
I’d heard about them before I even moved to New York – these stores around Times Square that pull you in with the promise of good deals on electronic items. For years, I never even looked their way. Then, on an impulse, and thinking I was immune to the hard sell, I walked in.
Yes, young lady. What can I help you with today?
Just looking, I said, in my best I’m-not-interested voice.
You looking for a phone? camera? We’ve got the iPhone, iPad and all the cameras, all on sale. Seventy percent off. You looking for a camera?
At this point, I thought, what the heck?
Yes, I’m looking for a camera, I replied nonchalantly.
What kind of camera?
Canon, I told him.
Well, the Canon’s a good camera, but you’ve got to try this one.
He reached behind the counter and pulled out a dark green box. A Fuji, it was a model I didn’t recognize. It looked new enough but I was on guard, the voices in my head reminding me these stores can’t be trusted. He opened the box, took it out of its plastic wrapper and started to sing its praises.
This is new, he said. It’s the best camera I have now. Here, go outside and take some photos, see how far it can focus.
What’s the price?
For you, I give you for $650.
I don’t want to spend that kind of money, I said. Besides, I don’t know anything about this camera. I’ll have to do some research and come back tomorrow.
The deal is only good today. You come back tomorrow, you get the regular price.
With that, he began to put the camera back into the wrapper. I walked out of the store. The next block over, I saw another store. I walked in, this time, prepared to spend a couple hundred on a point and shoot. I was set to travel and didn’t want to leave without a reliable camera. I wanted a Canon but after leaving the first store, I thought if I could get the newer model up from my Sony, it would hold me over until I returned from my trip.
I told the salesman what I wanted. I also told him I’d take a look at a Canon as well. He showed me the Canon but then he started to talk about this new camera that he had. It was the same camera the salesman at the other store had showed me, this time though, the price was $400.
Right about now, I feel like I’m getting a deal but I still didn’t want to spend that much on a camera I knew little about. I’d go for $300, I told him. His counter was $350, including tax. He must have noticed that I was still uncertain and decided to throw in a few goodies, like a camera bag, and batteries. To ramp up the pressure, he pointed out that the deal was good for that day only.
As if to wear down my shaky resolve, at least two other salesmen nearby stopped what they were doing to tell me what a “good” deal I was getting. I can’t say what did it but I pulled out my card and completed the purchase.
Later, I found the same camera online for $170 less! According to my receipt, returns would be accepted within 7 days of purchase. I repackaged the camera and took it back to the store for a refund. But the salesman who handled the sale had not come in to work and I was told, no one else could do the refund. I returned three more times without success.
The last time was also the day before I left for my trip. Seeing my frustration, one of the sales people told me I should ask my bank to void the sale. They agreed to investigate. I also called the manager of the store and told him what I’d done and left the store, camera in hand.
How to Avoid Being Sucked in
1. Before you walk into any store, do your homework. Know the price of the item you want to buy.
2. Shop for the item you want, don’t be swayed by sales pressure.
3. Double check the store’s return/refund policy. Make sure there are no unusual stipulations, like in my case where the sales person was the only one authorized to issue a refund.
4. Ask to see the manufacturer’s warranty. Stores have been known to rip off customers by passing off refurbished items as new.
5. Check with the New York Better Business Bureau if a company you wish to do business with is accredited and that there have been no complaints against that business.
6. Report any issues to your bank.
Be aware of stores like the one I shopped at that seem to thrive on people who are unprepared, and especially on unsuspecting visitors.
The bank refunded the funds and I should have returned the camera but I was out of the country 30 days later so the bank had no choice but to debit my account. I ended up paying a pretty penny for going against my better judgement.
Have you ever been sucked in by electronic stores in Times Square or high pressure sales people?