The Story of a Digital Camera Hunt – Which Retailer Wins?

Today Forbes published a story written by Steven Rosenbaum titled, “Holidays 2012. The Year Online Retail Overtakes Bricks And Mortar.”

Through the story, he details why he theorizes this. But the most compelling part for me was the story of his quest for a digital camera. As an avid photographer who loves his current camera but was looking for something less big and bulky, Rosenbaum set out on a mission for either the Sony NEX 5 or the Nikon F1. I’ll let his words tell the rest…

First stop – B&H (the NYC camera superstore). I’m almost always happy with my purchases at B&H, but unlike their high-end advisers behind the desks in the photo area, the mid-range cameras are all laid out by manufacturer. And behind the Canon desk is a Canon expert, behind the Sony desk, a Sony expert – etc. So, no advice about which model is better for my use, or which is a better value. So – this experience didn’t work for B&H.

Next stop – Best Buy. A lovely woman shows me a Fujifilm FinePix camera. Seems ok, but doens’t have WiFi – so I ask her about the Sony. She looks puzzled. She works for Fuji she says (pointing to her name tag with a Fuji Logo). Hence, she can only really demo the Fuji, though she admits the Sony is very nice.

I hunt around for a camera expert in the camera area. Lots of well meaning young women, who remind me of the staff at Staples. None of them, it seems have ever used a digital camera, let alone own one. Each of them try to answer questions, but mostly they just read the text off the box. What’s the difference between the NEX 5 and and the NEX 3 or 7? They’re stumped. Can they let me try it with the smaller lens, rather than the kit lens? Nope. The camera is tethered to the display – and they can’t change the lens. So, I’m out.

Finally – Amazon. Amazon has TONS of comments, advice, suggestions. And packages. Kits that include lots of accessories that I’ll need – extra batteries, lens caps, lens wipes, travel bags, cleaners – all kinds of things.

Interestingly – Amazon has both their own kits – and kits from Willoughbys. The Willoughbys had more bits of varies shapes and size, but the Amazon kit was offered via Prime with free shipping – and promised on time delivery as well as 2% credit to my Prime account. Winner – Amazon. Same price with less gizmos but more confidence in shipping.

The shopping experience and benefits of online retailers, specifically big ones like Amazon, could not be painted clearer. So what do you do, B&H or Best Buy? You were instrumental in Mr. Rosenbaum’s buying process because he was able to touch and feel the cameras and get a better sense of them (slightly), but ultimately, the collection of expert reviews sat with Amazon. Perhaps this is the answer: find a way to collect expert reviews and opinions in an online open forum the way Amazon does and promote the heck out of it. The challenge, of course, will be building that database of reviews and opinions and marketing the fact that it rivals that of the big guns. Maybe it means incentivizing reviews to start? So much to think about, so little time…