Camera shops have a tough time of it. Despite the fact that most camera buyers love to walk into their local camera store (LCS) and fiddle with cameras, lenses, and so on, these shops sell commodity products that you'll almost always be able to find selling for a discount somewhere online.
This phenomenon is often called "showrooming", and it's also killing other electronics retailers -- Circuit City is gone, for instance, and Best Buy is fading fast. It's enough of a problem that some stores have gone as far as to implement a cover charge of sorts to be redeemed against merchandise if you wind up actually purchasing something.
Now, don't get me wrong -- there are some shops that deserve to go the way of the dodo. I've seen shops where the employees won't give you the time of day, or carry a product line that's so limited it's of no practical use, and I don't shed a tear when one of them winks out of existence. In the Columbus area, though, my LCS is Midwest Photo Exchange (MPEX), and I absolutely try to throw them a buck or two when I can because they're a great asset to have in town.
Generally, if I'm shopping for something that I really can't shop for online, I'll try to find it at MPEX. The last two examples I can think of are a camera bag and a tripod quick-connect clamp & plate. In the case of the bag, MPEX wound up not carrying what I was looking for, but in the case of the plate, they had a Berno Arca-Swiss type plate that seemed to be pretty much what I was looking for. I liked the operation of the Benro, but I'd just started shopping, so I went home and did some more research online. I even bought a Desmond unit on Amazon - it ended up being functional, but not nearly as quick as the Benro.
In the meantime, I got a promotional email from MPEX -- they were having a lightning sale of sorts, including a terrific deal on a Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod -- they were selling it at close to half off retail price, which was too good to pass up (look for a review once I wrap up my budget tripod shootout, by the way). I called in to reserve one of these, and when I went in to pick it up, I wound up taking another look at that Benro clamp.
I've had trips to MPEX where they've been swamped, and I couldn't scare up a salesperson to save my life, but yesterday I was helped after only a few minutes. I picked up the tripod, and as long as I had a salesperson there, I asked if Benro sold the clamp I was looking at without a head. The do, so I picked one up. A quick sideways glance at the price showed that it was priced about right, and since I'd never have made that purchase without the assistance of the people there in the store, I was happy to pay a couple bucks more than online, if it turned out to be available elsewhere for less. When I checked out, though, the salesman wound up giving me a discount, anyway -- a great surprise. Unfortunately, as it turns out, the clamp won't fit my Giottos ballhead quite right, so it may have to go back to MPEX, but overall, it was a very happy LCS trip.
MPEX also does some other things that you'll never find at Best Buy -- they've got a rental department and a whole room devoted to lighting that you'd be hard-pressed to match elsewhere.
If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you'll know that I'm a big advocate of not paying more than you need to for equipment, but if you've got an LCS that's worth having around, I absolutely recommend showing them a little love -- it's tough to replace a resource like this when you need them.
- Budget tripod shootout, part 1 (lambertpix.com)
- Store Wages War Against 'Showrooming' by Charging a 'Just Looking' Fee (petapixel.com)