One can’t help to resist the allure. Imagine what you could do with that new camera, especially at the much lower price point. Grey importers operate in... well... a grey area of sorts. Their business is totally legal, but they sometimes can’t offer the same protection that you would get from an authorized retailer. So is it worth it? Should your make your next purchase from a grey importer?
What is a grey importer?
I’m certain you’re well aware of the term “black market,” or a market for the buying and selling of illegal goods. In a black market, the sellers are usually peddling fake versions of well known branded products. China is notorious for its black markets where people sell copyrighted DVDs for much less than what you’d pay in your home country. They can do it because the Chinese authorities are lax when it comes to the enforcement of copyright.
Grey markets exist in between black markets and retailers. All of the products and practices are perfectly legal, but there are no official warranties or product agreements. Grey products are all sold as-is.
Grey importers can offer you these great deals because they’ve found an overseas source selling the product at a much lower price. Grey importers step outside of normal distribution channels to find the products they sell, and that’s why they cannot offer an official warranty. They are not in any way affiliated with the original camera manufacturer.
That doesn't mean there is no warranty at all, just no 'official' warranty. Grey marketers realise not having a warranty is a major disavantage to their business, so they usually organise their own warranties. You can still return your goods under warranty, and the items will be fixed or replaced. The repair will be done by a repairer organised by the grey importer, not the official manufacturer.
How much can you save when you purchase a “grey” camera?
It’s usually a few hundred dollars per piece of equipment. Grey importers are just like any other businessperson. They want to get the highest possible margins on the cameras they sell. Their ideal strategy is to price the camera around the same price as you could get by purchasing directly from the other country online. With their warranty, it makes it attractive enough to get your attention.
They exploit the price differences between the official price for your country, and the official price in another country.
Price. That's the main advantage. But these days it's a pretty big one. Here in Australia, the local price can sometimes be double the price in other countries.
Timing. Particularly if you live outside the USA, there can be a large delay between when the camera is released in the USA, and released in your local country. A grey market importer can sell you the hot new item before it's released locally.
I've already mentioned the lack of official warranty, but if you make sure you get a local warranty from the company, you'll usually be okay.
You usually won't get the same service as from a regular camera store, as grey retailers usually keep their staff costs low by only hiring low skilled workers (who don't know the ins and outs of each camera) or just operators for the checkouts.
Grey retailers can be 'fly by night' operators. Taking your money one day, and gone the next. That only matters for warranty issues but most companies I know use specialist warranty companies who have been around for a while and will continue to provide service if your original purchase company goes away. But if you do your research and make sure the warranty is with a reputable company, you'll be fine. Watch for pressure tactics too. The worst scammers always try to put you under some kind of time pressure. They’ll say things like, “I can only offer this deal for the next hour. Someone else is coming in later, and he’s pretty interested in buying.” Call them on their bluff. Leave.
But just as likely, the grey importer is a respected business. A great example from here in Australia is JB HiFi. They are one of the largest retailers here and late last year started selling grey market Nikon cameras via their website. Again, do your research.
Finally, be aware that some camera manufacturers have threatened to not provide firmware upgrades for items sold via grey retailers. This won't matter for a cheaper point and shoot camera or a lens with no firmware, but it's worth noting for more expensive DSLR cameras.
Should I Purchase From a Grey Market Retailer?
Well, yes and no.
If you have a lot of questions about what type of camera you'd like to purchase, or you want to be able to go back to the store for some after-sales service (to get their help with a feature you don't understand, for instance) then I would recommend you purchase from a store that sells the official gear.
Also, if the price difference isn't that great - for example if the grey importer is selling for a 10% discount - then I would recommend you go with the official channels. You can usually bargain a 10% discount from an official retailer.
However, if you have done all your research online and know the model you want; don't need to go back afterwards; and the price difference is worth it, then absolutely go for a grey market item.
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