Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BestPricePhoto Jack Webb Version: Just The Facts Ma'am

This is a condensed version of a longer posting containing additional background, interpritation, and fluff. World HQ
FSC_6458 (2378 60th St) by bigleehimself
2378-2380 60th St, photo by Don Wiss taken 5/9/2011, used by permission by bigleehimself on Flickr.

Update: 26 October 2011 (Bumped)

Several commenters have asked if I was able to get a full refund or if I found myself out the 'restocking' fee. As of earlier this week I have recovered the full amount. Please bear in mind that charging a restocking fee is not always a rip-off. When you cut the manufacturer's seal on a product and open the box you have destroyed a noticeable percentage of the product's value in the retail market. If the product arrives in good condition, is as advertised, and was shipped in good faith then the vendor is entitled to some compensation for that lost value if you change your mind about the purchase and send it back. But, if any of those conditions do not apply -- if the product arrives broken, or the advertisement was deceptive or inaccurate -- then, provided that you can document the problem, your credit card company can probably recover the restocking fee. The trick is to expect to write to your credit card company twice, once for the initial partial refund and once to get the restocking fee back. Your credit card company's computers will assume that the initial partial refund is fair and will automatically close the case. The second letter to your credit card company will re-open the case and bring the attention of a human investigator who will evaluate your claim.

From the merchant information on my credit card transaction and from my return authorization email, BestPricePhoto's mailing address is 2389 60th St, Brooklyn, NY. I was fortunate to find Don Wiss' page where he has photos of most of the Brooklyn Camera Store storefronts ( I sent him a note asking if I could use his photo of the building but he said it was too old and he would send me a newer one. His newest photo is still a couple of months old and the "going out of business" signs may be gone. And to be totally fair: the building shown in the photo has two addresses. The "going out of business" shop (at 2378) may not be related., technically, does business out of the whited-out door on the right (2380).

I found through Google's shopping application. Their offering wasn't the least expensive one I found -- another dealer sells refurbished Nikon D7000s for a bit less -- but they were slightly less expensive than and claimed to be selling new products with US warranties. Here's the ad to which I responded:

 bpp2 by bigleehimself 
The Ad, a screenshot by bigleehimself on Flickr.
Note the line items for "Battery" and "1-Year Limited Warranty" in the content list

Elsewhere on the page this text appears:

bpp3 by bigleehimself
bpp3, a photo by bigleehimself on Flickr.
Note the promise of a USA Warranty

Before your online order is processed, BestPricePhoto will give you a call to make sure the order is legitimate and correct, and to help you select additional accessories you might not have thought of when you placed your order. When I spoke to Chris, who helped me with my order, he asked if I wanted the "two hour" or the "four hour" battery. The item list for my order included a battery but BestPricePhoto has several battery upgrade options available. I declined his offer but later I looked up the batteries they have available for the D7000.
 bpp4 by bigleehimself
bpp4, a photo by bigleehimself on Flickr.
What is shown here is their advertised price. Five-star reviews from grateful customers have suggested that BestPricePhoto will frequently give discounts on these batteries when ordered to replace the battery that comes in the kit.

But the funny thing is... There is only one battery that can go in the battery compartment of a Nikon D7000 -- the Nikon EN-EL15. It's a new battery and the knock-off battery manufacturers haven't gotten around to it. As far as I know there's no such thing as a higher-capacity version, nor a "demo" battery. All four options -- "battery" "EN-EN15", "Nikon EN-EL15" and "EN-EL15 Extended Long Life Lithium Battery" -- are the same item, with an MSRP (as of this writing) of $72.95.

Two attempts were made to charge my credit card. The first (by MCJ DISCOUNTS INC) was declined by American Express as suspicious. I received email both from BPP's billing department and from American Express, both saying the charge had been declined and asking me to verify it. I didn't think much of it at the time. Credit card companies will often call to verify a charge that seems 'unusual' and I don't place orders of that size with online dealers all the time. I called AmEx, verified that I had expected a charge for that amount on that date and then called BestPricePhoto to tell them they could try again. The second (successful) charge shows the merchant as

Doing Business As: 8887821617BESTPRICEPHOTOC
Merchant Address: 2380 60TH ST BROOKLYN NY 11204

My camera arrived nine days after I launched my order, within the time I was told to expect. The contents of the shipment were a Nikon box for a D7000+lens kit with the 18-105mm lens pulled out, presumably to sell separately. The promised "accessory pack" was a no-show; no toy tripod, no memory card wallet, but I hadn't wanted that stuff anyway and I didn't care. The accessories were all present and the charger had US plugs. The contained no "quick start guide" and no warranty paperwork of any sort.

I tried to register the camera online. The Nikon product registration page didn't like my serial number.
20110816_1 by bigleehimself
The Box, a photo by bigleehimself on Flickr.

20110816_2 by bigleehimself
serial number, a photo by bigleehimself on Flickr.

graymarketd7000 by bigleehimself
graymarketd7000, a photo by bigleehimself on Flickr.

I called BestPricePhoto and spoke with “Raymond” who appears to be their entire customer service department. I mentioned the lack of warranty documentation. His response, as I recall: “Oh, did they forget to put that in?” I also mentioned my inability to register the camera with Nikon. His response was that they worked directly with a Nikon service facility and that they would handle the process of registering the camera. He promised me a certificate of warranty “straight from Nikon” and made me hold the phone while he “had the Nikon guys send it to me.” After a few minutes wait he said he had the certification and would send it to me along with another copy of my invoice so everything would be together. In a few minutes another email arrived. Here are the more interesting parts of it...
Capturea by bigleehimself
Cert part A, screenshot by bigleehimself on Flickr.

I've omitted a few more links to Nikon pages. The email ends with a Nikon, Inc signature:

Captureb by bigleehimself
Cert part b, screenshot by bigleehimself on Flickr.

My “certification of warranty” didn’t mention a warranty at all – no warranty period, no description of coverage, nothing – it was merely an assurance that my product had been registered for me. Also, the telephone number provided was the toll-free number for BestPricePhoto and, being, I’m afraid, a suspicious person, I wondered if the note had actually come “from Nikon” as claimed.

I contacted someone who does work for Nikon (but has asked not to be identified), providing him with the text of the note above and asking if the warranty it described was likely to be legitimate. His opinion: "None of the information you provided looks legitimate. If the serial number of the D7000 is 6223221, this is not a USA model."

I called BestPriceCamera and, once again, spoke to Raymond. I told him that the warranty confirmation he had sent, since it contained no information about what was warranted, for how long, what would be fixed or by whom, was not sufficient and that I considered his advertisement deceptive and wanted to return the camera. At this point he offered to give me a warranty in writing and to extend the warranty to three years at no charge. He told me that the warranty would be offered by and that I should look into them and I would be satisfied. He sent another invoice, this time including a three year warranty (paperwork to be shipped at a future date).

I researched and found that, while they have a well-designed website, their reputation for servicing warranties on high-dollar items was spotty. The mailing address provided on the CSPCentral “Contact Us” page -- 1678 McDonald Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11230 – was exactly one block from the address for BestPriceCameras. I am once again indebted to Don Wiss for this photo of CPSCentral',s storefront:
FSC_3070 (1678 McDonald Ave) by bigleehimself
CPSCentral (1678 McDonald Ave), photo by Don Wiss used by permission by bigleehimself on Flickr.
Those not familiar with Brooklyn addresses might find this map useful. Point "A" is and point "B" is CPSCentral.
View Larger Map

A Few Thoughts About Online Reputation

One problem one has when complaining about one's treatment by an online merchant is how many happy, contented customers they have -- how many five-star ratings they have been given. One feels about as welcome as the guy in the third row at a magic show who yells things about mirrors and shaved cards. Most of BestPricePhoto's customers are blissfully happy with their transactions, and many of them have every reason to be. They were looking to buy a working, inexpensive camera at a discount price. And that's what they got. There may be a few line items -- for accessories and upgrades -- where they have paid more for showmanship than for value, but they are happy with the bottom line nonetheless. The ones who have purchased the less expensive cameras may have been ever-so-slightly ripped off in the warranty department but warranties for cheap cameras are of very little value anyway so, hey, if they are happy with the camera, why not?

It's the people like me -- people who fall for their "Hot Deal Today Only" special on the more-expensive 'enthusiast' cameras -- who queer the deal for everybody. If we are sold an expensive camera that we plan to use for many years and it has no warranty, or a warranty of limited value, and if it will be difficult to obtain service for the lifetime of the camera, then we have been harmed. Many of us won't know there will be problems getting service for the camera for years and when we do find out most of us will be mad at Nikon.

I decided that I could not accept BestPriceCamera’s latest offer since: 1) what was shipped was not what was advertised, specifically a camera with a US warranty; 2) When questioned about the warranty BestPriceCamera had made a concerted effort to conceal the warranty status of the camera, including sending me the above email, claiming it came from Nikon; and 3) the warranty they offered when they realized they could not convince me the camera had a Nikon warranty was not a fair substitute.

I called BestPriceCamera back and told Raymond that, having looked into the matter I still needed to return the camera and that, if charged a restocking fee, I would contest it since the product shipped was not as described when I ordered. Before he would issue the return authorization he had me go to his website and view a different listing for the D7000. He was hoping to convince me that I had received a gray market camera because I had mistakenly ordered the “Nikon D7000, 16.2 MP Digital SLR Camera Body” instead of the “Nikon D7000, 16.2 MP Digital SLR Camera Body -USA Retail Kit With Long Life Battery & Quick Charger”. It is impossible for me to know what I would have received if I had ordered the other (slightly more expensive) item but if you open both offers and look at the “This Product Includes” list you will see that both kits have the same exact contents listed including the same exact wording for the “one year limited warranty”.

The camera has gone back and a replacement ordered from Whether I wind up paying the 10% 'restocking fee' to BestPriceCamera remains to be seen.