Friday, June 5, 2009

Bricks & Mortar: Consumer Alert!

Port Townsend, today. Just had a narrow escape in purchasing an item over the Internet. Without relating the entire ghastly experience, be forewarned, again if necessary: aim to do business with "Bricks and Mortar" companies. In other words, deal with someone who you can physically march into their offices and raise hell, if it becomes necessary!

"Bricks and mortar" of course refers to a physical structure. Not a "virtual" structure. The fastest way to check is to click on the web site "contact" page. If you see a list of nothing but email addresses - run - do not walk - away from that site and seek out another.

A few months ago, I was looking for a particular piece of audio-visual equipment. Every damn site I found was a virtual site. About 10 PAGES into Google listings, I found a site in the Bay Area
that had what I was looking for, at a damn good price. In fact a very low price (warning bells!)

When I clicked on "contact" I found NOT ONLY a photo of their store front AND interior, but a street address with a Google Map link, mailing address, shipping address, store hours, local phone listing AND toll free listing.

As a "test" I went to the phone directory on line and everything matched. I placed the order. It was promptly filled.

Bargain hunters, especially Senior Citizens like me living on a fixed income, keenly seek low prices. I know, I know, you get what you pay for! But as I just related, by being dogged in my pursuit on Google, "drilling" as "they" say down through the layers of listings, it is possible to find the great combination of fair price with a legitimate business.

The close call I mentioned at the beginning of this piece was thwarted by my bad memory! I got all the way through the order process, and was one click away from consummation, when I began to worry if the account I was about to tap had sufficient funds to cover the purchase.

So I opened another browser window to access my account, which, as it turned out, had more than enough to pay for the goods. When I closed out the account browser window, I lost the other order window!

Back to square one. But then I thought, well - let me see if this outfit has any complaints. So I went to Google search and typed in "xyz + complaints."

Gad-zooks! A ton and 80 complaints, pages of them! Disgusted, I hit the sack. The next day, I began my search again, and by taking my time I finally found a dealer with a "Bricks and Mortar" presence.

Sometimes I've clicked "contact" and sent an eMail inquiring as to their physical location. Being virtual, they can literally be anywhere in the world. Sometimes I never get a response. Other times I get a yadda-yadda-doo about how, by not having a "Bricks and Mortar" store, they have lower overhead and recite the litenay of cost savings that implies, including looooow prices.

Willing to take a chance? A fellow by the name of Bob Osgoodby has written an excellent piece addressing "Bricks and Mortar" which I highly recommend.

It seems as though New York camera stores are notorious for "bait and switch," "gray market" and other egregious sales techniques. For a genuine education on this segment of the Internet market, enter this site written by Don Wiss. He spent hours riding around on a bicycle tracking down camera dealers, compiling more than 70 PAGES of photos and descriptions of New York camera stores, including their aliases and aka -also-known-as names (some operate under several names out of a singular location.) Some names you will recognize. Others will make you angry!

Now before I get flamed with "virtual" vendors who run a legitimate business, I'm sure they are in the majority. Unfortunately, like any other business, good people occasionally get sucked in with the garbage. The point of this article is to create an awareness, to be as informed a consumer as you can possibly be!

Finally, I'm sure you've heard that you should use a credit card instead of a debit card to facilitate conflict resolution. My strategy is to keep just enough loot in my debit account to cover the purchase, so that if something goes seriously south on me, my entire bindle won't be wiped out. Twice I've had problems with purchases on my debit card.

In the first case, I got suspicious of the "newness" of the product when I discovered coffee mug stains on pages in the owner's manual. The second case involved shipping something I did not order. When I queried them, they said they reserved the right to ship "or equivalent" at their discretion! (Didn't I read the small print?)

In both cases the bank issued me a credit within hours, with the admonition that IF the complaint was found unwarranted, the monies would be pulled. Naturally, to protect my ass, I recommend you check with YOUR bank on how they would handle refunds debit versus credit card purchases.

Both cases settled within days, in my favor.

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