Buying online, or not?
Here are quick guidelines to buy online for a product you know and have already chosen (how to choose the product is another issue, and as far as guitars are concerned, I still believe you need to try them first…)
One of the main comments I receive from my customer at the store is “how come you’re more expensive then the online websites”, and then, of course “ can you make me the same price?”
And let’s put it clear: I’m fed up to see people frustrated because some online dealers are showing attractive prices but are not committed to delivering any kind of quality service, starting with delivering the goods!
I’m not against competition and want to be sure my customers get the best of their money. So let’s me give you some advice on my own expericence.
I will not tell you not to buy online because I’m an online buyer myself. But I don’t buy all products online and not to everybody.
Rule n 1: Investigate the online seller
My first move on Ebay, Amazon Market Place or through Google Shopping search, is to check the reviews on the online seller. It’s as simple as entering the name of the seller and the word “reviews” in a Google search. Try to read the reviews as much as you can: you need to see how much time people are taking to write and what can be good and bad about the seller. I generally don’t give credit to reviews without any comments, as it’s hard to know what’s going on. I generally prefer spontaneous reviews, which give more insight on after sales issues.
The tip: Amazon is not Amazon Market place. Beware: while Amazon is a great online store, you can also deal in some cases with other sellers, who are paying a fee to Amazon to appear on their market place. Amazon is pretty clear and you’ll be informed when you are dealing with a third party. Make sure you check for reviews on that particular seller!
One of my customer asked to make the same deal as an online seller who was making a 20%-discount compare to my price (and believe me or not, I don’t think I’m overpriced). I was quite surprised and checked the reviews and here is what I saw:
Six-Month Rating: 3.89 / 10
And some reviews:
“I think this place is run by a guy from his mother's basement. They claim items are in stock and then after you place the order they contact you and state it is on back order and will be shipped "in a couple days." Three weeks later still nothing. When they are contacted they act like they could care less if they have your business! Customer service is a joke! They even go as far as making fun of you. Order from someone else and rest easy.”
“I ordered a guitar on May 2, and nothing showed up. Every time I inquired, the owner Ben provided a date but nothing ever happened. I canceled on Oct 2 after five months.
I checked Utah BBB (below) and he has C+ rating with 22 complaints. Check other complaint sites below where Ben calls paying (or trying to pay) customers "crazy", "punk", "irresponsible".... If you want to tolerate that kind of abuse to save a few bucks, this is the right store for you. “
I did a similar survey for an online bookstore (actually going through Amazon market place) and reviewers were complaining that “wrong books were delivered” or even worse “package arrived but empty”. The worst one was with a camera seller who was offering incredible prices but was always shipping with a part missing. And guess what: the part happened to be available only through the same seller for an outrageous price.
I don’t want to frighten you or prevent you from buying online: I just say that scams are generally quicly reported on the web and the only thing to do is to do some quick surveys.
Tip: Try also in Google search the name of the seller and the word “scam”. It’s generally a good way to identify the bad actors. You can also check at the Better Business Bureau, BBB.
Not all sellers are like that and there are a lot you can trust, but from my personal experience, those offering very low prices often have a troubled history.
Tip: beware of e-sellers getting a good rating on minor sales (very obvious on e-bay)! Check, how much as you can, what kind of reviews they get for products similar to the one you buy. Expectations are not the same when you buy a $5 used book and a $500 guitar (or more!) Quick way: check the bad reviews first.
Some online stores are very clear about the availability. I recommend generally to check for availability as follows:
- Don’t stay on the Google page result: go to the site and check for discontinued items, back order, etc…;
- Go as far as you can in the ordering process (but no payment information, ever!) and check if you get a delivery estimate. Sometimes you can see that the item is on back order and no commitment is made on delivery.
- Investigate and check what is told about delivery time.
Why availability is a problem? Some stores are actually stocking the items and make the stock available online. But some are only the middleman between the supplier and you: they take the order, the money and then place the order themselves and ask the items to be delivered to your place (check the surveys, you’ll see how many times people get the items directly form the supplier!)
The Tip: check on best-rated websites. If products are said to be discontinued, out of stock or ask for a 2/3 week shipping time, you may face some troubles on “great deals” from other online dealers.
Check extensively for the sale policy:
- Warranty: who will take care of me after the sale? I can tell you from my experience that you don’t want to deal with the suppliers directly: they expect their dealer to work out as many problems as possible;
- Returns: what if I have some trouble with the item delivered? Will I pay to send it back? You can see a wide range of practice on the web. Some well known stores will give you ample time to send your items back and will cover all costs. Some others will not even accept to take damaged goods and will ask you – if you can reach them – to sort everything out with the carrier!
- Additional promotions: check for additional gains as discounts, future trade-ins, free online lessons, etc….
Bottom line, what I learnt: very low prices are always too good to be true. You’ll definitely get some good deals on clearance sales: discontinued lines, very specific products with a very low demand, demonstration or showroom items. You rarely get good deals on high demand products.
Tip: Favor the stores that are displaying a clear and fair return policy. Check reviews to see if they do what they say!
Rule n2: Compare line by line
Check on products…
Once you have done your investigation, you should have a pretty idea of what you get and the risk you take. What I generally do, is to value all the following items:
- Base price for the product (check the item list for some refurbished, showroom, tradeshows items)
- Tax (remember in California, you don’t pay the sale tax if you buy out of the state but you are to declare the used tax every year; you may not do it, but don’t complain for the road to deteriorate, the school programs to be squeezed, etc…);
- Price for shipping;
- Substract any loss of value for used stuff (demo, showroom, tradeshows items in particular);
- Value of any related item you may need: gig bag or case for a guitar (I don’t think about anything else as a hardshell case to avoid any damage during the shipping: make sure that the guitar is shipped in the case, and not shipped separately…)
… and services!
Then, I figure out how much I would pay for “extras”:
- Trying the very item I will actually buy;
- Getting the item on time (on time being anywhere between “now” and “within a month”);
- Getting some good advice (I didn’t give much value to that one, being somewhat distrustful, but I found that Yelp was a good way to get some information about merchants; anyway, I know many people will go to the store for some advice and then buy online, but I guess it’s part of our job!)
- Getting additional services (I hate additional warranties, they are often hard to be used and you finally buy not much, I’m talking about real free services): future discounts, free items, free services (such as free set up, trade ins, lay aways, free credit, etc…);
- Avoid the hassle of a return (looking for free return for warranty issues or free “satisfaction guaranteed” return);
- Avoid to go to malls or crowded places, avoid to meet over aggressive sellers (that one is a good reason for me to buy some items online and pay for extra shipping fees….)
Tips: write reviews! It will not only help others but help you to figure out what really matters to you! Some places like Amazon (beware, Amazon is not amazon market place!) have great reviews forms.
Bottom line: over pricing seller will still deserve some attention if it really offers a value for the extra pricing (items actually in stock and delivered quickly - additional services – high before and after sale services), under pricing seller won’t get any if it trades the price against poor services (late delivery – no after sale service ).
Nota: for everybody to know, I generally check my own prices the same way, comparing them to highly rated websites, and check if the extra price (if any, many time I get close to their price!) relates to an additional value.
Tip: If you choose the sellers who arrive first in Google (not the advertised section), don’t spare the survey. Recently, an online seller specialized in Glasses was showing up first because of the many links he received to flag its scam!