When my trusty Olympus C2100 digital camera started showing its age, I decided it was time to move on to a professional model.
I'd settled on the Canon 20D, along with the lenses and accessories I needed, but the biggest task was determining the best price.
In Hong Kong, that meant legwork.
First I went to B & H Photo online; I'd imported the Olympus from them for much less than I could have bought it here at the time, so it made sense to see what they had to offer. The rebate on the Canon gear only applied to U.S. citizens, so I was out of luck there, but at least I could establish a base price. Amazon was competitive.
From there I visited camera shops staffed by surly, uncooperative middle-aged men. Most were out to lunch with their quotes, but a few were close to the B & H figures. The trick was to weed out the vast price fluctuations on the parts from shop to shop.
The moment I enquired about the cost of the camera body, the salesmen asked if I intended to pay by cash or credit card. Some stores in Hong Kong will accept a credit card no questions asked, while many of the small outfits demand a 2% surcharge.
Small shops don't want to eat the transaction charge, so they tack it onto the bill. Arguing with them won't change their minds; it's their way or the highway. Instead, they play the lowball card.
Thus I had quotes on the body ranging from HK$10,430 to $10,600. The 17-85mm lens had even bigger swings, from HK$4,200 to $4,550. The shops quoting higher prices didn't have the credit card surcharge.
Two notable events unfolded from this research:
1. No Hong Kong store could touch B & H on the 75-300mm EF IS zoom telephoto lens, shipping included. The best quote I received was about US$50 higher, and no one would entertain the idea of matching it.
2. One of the small shops had the lowest price overall on the body, lens, and grip; but its surcharge pushed it HK$269 (about US$34.50) above the best price I got without it. The clerk had been one of the few friendly faces I'd encountered; I rang him to ask if he'd consider dropping the 2% to earn my business. His answer was a flat-out "no".
On the day of purchase, Mabel and I returned to the store where I'd been quoted the lowest figure for the three major components, credit card or not. The salesman I'd spoken with was off, but the other fellows were only too happy to tap out the amount on a calculator: $390 higher.
And with the surcharge.
I'd anticipated this; it's all part of the game. If you're a gwai lo, you look like a tourist, ergo they'll try to take advantage of you. Their excuse was that the price I'd received three days prior was a "limited time offer".
Yeah, yeah, yeah ... next they'll try to sell me the Tsing Ma Bridge.
I sicced my wife on them. She was insurance, in case their English took a sudden vacation. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes, they huddled, agreed to honour the previous quote, and then pulled out the parts to complete the transaction.
The next two shops we visited were for simple accessories such as lens hoods and filters; even with the 2% surcharge, their quoted prices were much lower than most other stores and even B & H. I just hoped they wouldn't play games, which in the end they didn't. I can only take so much of that garbage before I snap.
People often send e-mail about whether they'll save money buying cameras or electronics in Hong Kong. Based on this experience, had I been living in the United States, I would have purchased most of the gear there. The rebates alone would have been worth it, as well as avoiding duties at the airport.
If you're planning a trip to Hong Kong, be thorough: do your homework, investigate the prices, and you may come away with some bargains.
Let the games begin.
June 14, 2005
Next Tale: Can't You Read The Sign?