Big Bubbles (no troubles)

What sucks, who sucks and you suck

Death of a Salesman

New year, new camera: I wanted to buy a Nikon D50 DSLR. I’m not proud and I’m not giving up on film, but I needed something digital that accepted fast lenses, gave acceptable images at high ISOs and had a shooting rate that could keep up with my nine month old Junior Research Assistant’s expression changing between joyful, intrigued, puzzled and raspberry-blowing every few seconds. If it weren’t for the F-mount compatibility and ridiculously low price, I’d be buying a proper DSLR with a decent viewfinder. </rant>

So I took a moral stance and went down to the shops…

Specifically, I went to Jacobs, who have given me good service in the past (chiefly through their willingness to recommend somewhere else when they didn’t have something). After all, I wanted to handle a D50, and I didn’t want to see every high street shop fall victim to discount Internet pricing (just Jessops). And I didn’t want to risk an unknown web retailer who might take my money and ship a box three weeks later containing a dead rat, and then demand two years of protracted wrangling before replacing it. And besides, Amazon wanted twelve quid more.

The fondling bit went quite well, but then it turned out that they didn’t have a black N50 body-only - like the one I was holding - in stock. But they could get one by next Wednesday, which was only three days (uh, plus a weekend) later. So I remembered my moral stance, reminded myself it was a crappy camera that I regretted having to buy anyway, and gave them my details. (Why didn’t I just buy a silver body instead? Because dammit, I’m the bloody consumer and I want that one!)

Five days later, I went back and was told that they couldn’t get one. We’re not talking about the ultra-rare platinum-plated special edition D50X with the built-in submarine periscope here. A bog standard consumer D50 from the second largest SLR manufacturer, and the best they could do was special order it in “about two weeks”. I was polite; I said, “Thanks anyway” before walking out.

Back online, I hunted around for better luck. To be fair, it appears that black D50 bodies are indeed somewhat rare at present (although “out of stock” on the Jessops web site certainly replicates the experience of visiting one of their stores). I found two UK Nikon retailers who were warmly recommended by other owners: AJ Purdy and Park Cameras; both seemed to have stock. I went with AJ Purdy and got the camera I wanted for £355 plus free delivery via Royal Mail, so there could be no hassles dealing with a courier. (Incidentally, that’s less than price of the F80 I bought from Jacobs that started me on this pointless, frustrating hobby three years ago - although if you remove the magic word “digital”, the D50 is actually a sub-£200 basic SLR.) It arrived 36 hours later. Obviously I never felt the human touch at any point (i.e. the bit that smarms at you, gets upset when you won’t buy an overpriced memory card as well and then puts the wrong box in the bag), but there are pictures of Purdy’s glamorous staff on their web site if I wanted to gaze soulfully into their eyes, something that often gets you thrown out of a shop unless you’re spending over a grand (in which case the assistant may gaze back and blow kisses as you leave).

From this triumphant finale, I conclude that high street camera shops - even the tolerable ones like Jacobs - could well be dead men walking. If you’re working in one, I hope you’re also studying that “Teach Yourself PHP” book in the evenings. The street price of the D50 is £399, and at that level there can’t be any profit unless they can also flog a pile of overpriced accessories at the same time - and that was never going to happen (we’re talking an extra forty quid for an SD card). (Of course, there probably wasn’t much margin in it for AJ Purdy either; but they’re going to get repeat business.) The online store:

  • carries more stock;
  • usually has cheaper prices due to lower overheads;
  • ships next day, sometimes for free;
  • doesn’t let you handle the goods, but on the other hand gives you plenty of time to consider your purchase.

…while the high street store:

  • never has the thing you want in stock;
  • can’t tell you when it can get one either (“Errr…we might get a delivery on Thursday but I dunno what’s in it”);
  • prices the same as every other shop, even in a “sale”;
  • may employ monkeys, the less well-mannered kind.

Grass ‘em all over and plant trees instead. Or more likely, Tescos.

Other bubbles

  • HMV boss is first victim; admits he didn’t see it coming and was blindsided by the appeal of lower prices and more stock. Who pays these idiots??