Liberal Return Policies vs. "has my camera been used?": A way to Solve This

Started 4 months ago | Discussions thread
Eamon Hickey
Veteran MemberPosts: 3,151
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think he was talking about demo'ing, not selling
In reply to absentaneous, 4 months ago

absentaneous wrote:

Patrick McMahon wrote:

I like to go in and try out a lenses. The idea that my asking a camera shop to try a lens would effectively reduce the value of a lens because of a seal is unfair.

the real question is why should this be free? why should it be free for you to try out a lens? why should other people pay for that and not just the person who wants to try out the lens?

I can't speak for Patrick, but I think he was only talking about the concept of the seal on the box, and how that affects demonstrating a product in-store. I don't think he was specifically talking about letting somebody take a lens home and use it for a week or two, then re-boxing it.

The tradition, going back 80 years or more, in the brick-and-mortar camera retailing business in the U.S. has been to allow customers to handle lenses and cameras in-store before buying them. A factory sealed box would prevent that in some cases (explanation below). I believe that's the narrow issue Patrick was talking about.

This has always been a bit of a delicate dance. In the camera store that I managed way back in the early 1990s, we did our best to keep only one demo unit of any popular camera, and only use it when customers wanted to handle a camera before buying. If they decided to buy, they'd get a fresh, unopened unit from our inventory. Then we'd sell the demo for a discount after a year or so.

That works fine for any product that the store carries in quantity. Buy the practical fact is that, for many products for most stores, it's economically prohibitive to carry multiple units. Most brick-and-mortar stores are only going to carry one Nikon 14mm lens, for example, if they carry it at all. If a customer wants to see how heavy it is, and how it feels in the hand, it has to come out of its box.

This tradition is not unusual, as Patrick noted. Jewelry is sold this way. If you buy a diamond ring in a jewelry store, there's almost no chance that it's never been put on somebody else's finger. If you buy a shirt in a clothing store, it's very likely been tried on by somebody before you. If you buy a car, there's a very good chance somebody else has test driven it. Getting a discount because of this is not automatic. Of course, sometimes it's possible, depending on the industry and the store.

And demonstrating products in-store is not the same thing as a liberal return policy. The practice of letting somebody take a lens home, use it for two weeks, and then return it is really a different issue, at least for anyone who has ever worked in a camera store, or tried to figure out how to manage one so that employees' paychecks don't bounce and you just might be able to give them health insurance.

So the factory seal idea, in trying to solve the liberal return policy issue, creates a consequence for a different issue.

Of course, I did get customers who didn't see a difference -- they wanted a lens that had never been handled by any human being after it left the assembly line. We would try to accommodate them, but it was sometimes difficult to find factory-fresh inventory (with low volume products especially), and it usually meant a special order and the attendant wait of a week or two.

Later on, when I went to work for Nikon, I did have one dealer in a large city who specialized in carrying basically everything Nikon made, but often only one unit deep. He would not demonstrate a lens. If you bought it, you could see it. Otherwise, no. And -- no surprise here -- his return policy was: "No. Next customer." He had a big tourist business, so it worked, but most American customers, used to U.S. retailing practices, found his policy really off-putting.

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