Hi friends... I'd like to share my perspectives about buying photographic equipment in Australia... & prices, etc
But first, before I get into that (the 'service experience & purchasing') with regard to grey market
- here is an interesting post on the topic that's probably worth reading:http://www.canonrumors.com/forum/index.php/topic,1725.msg29110.html#msg29110
I've bought a few grey market lenses & a number of accessories online - and have tested each when I received them. Where a defect would show (or a 'lemon copy' - ie not within manufacturers' specifications) I would attempt to return it. Thankfully I haven't needed to! :-) Online service, shipping and so on has been good with those I've used (eg ddphotographics, and a number of others).
Ok so on to 'local buying'. I have a degree in marketing and part of my career I have developed and facilitated customer service training modules to major service organisations (eg international car hire companies, government services, hospitality). I've always taken good service very seriously and am critical of bad service, and am happy to compliment outstanding staff. In my current job I'm a manager of a federal government team - particularly focussed in resolving service issues and systemic service improvement.
Currently I live in Adelaide, South Australia. In the past I've lived for several years in Europe (London, UK as well as Eastern Europe - eg Romania). My first DSLR (Canon 350D) I bought in Europe (from a store in London, and I pre-ordered it online - so the staff held it for me as I was travelling some distance to get there). I've bought a number of lenses and accessories (eg filters, batteries, memory, etc) around that time too - from a few different stores. Also bought my first tripod (a very cheap version) in Romania.
Since moving back to Australia about 5 years ago, I've purchased other camera gear (a number of lenses, a Canon 7D, accessories eg camera bags, better tripod, memory cards, batteries, flash, remote / interval timer, etc). Quite often I'll go to a camera store to see what products different stores are stocking, and what their prices are - and sometimes to talk with camera store staff about the latest products (eg in a lunch hour, or weekend time). I use the internet to be upto date on the latest products that are being annouced and being sold.
My experience has been that in some stores you will get a staff member who knows very little (eg about 20%) of what I do about a particular product (or line / range of products). Eg... they will say "All cameras from Brand X have very poor image quality out of the camera, everything looks soft and the colour is dull, no matter what you do. Brand Y are much better". (Big generalisations, and they include all P&S and DSLRs in their 'statement'). Sometimes I play along for the fun. There might be another staff member in the store who knows what they're talking about (and then I engage in serious discussion). I'm talking about staff in Jessups & CameraWorld (in UK) as well as Teds, JBHiFi, Diamonds, Camera House & Photographic Wholesalers in Australia.
In my personal experience, I've found some stores have a higher 'average product knowledge' than others, and I've found staff in dedicated photography stores generally have more accurate knowledge. Some stores also seem to have more of a pushy / commission based approach. Here in Adelaide I have had some good conversations with 1 or 2 staff in Teds (Rundle Street), and Diamonds camera (both Rundle Street and TTP), as well as Photographic Wholesalers in Hutt Street. (BTW, Photographic Wholesalers is a differently branded outlet, but the same company as Diamonds Cameras in Adelaide).
There are a few key staff that I now look out for in Diamonds TTP and Photographic Wholesalers, and when I am walking by, if they're in and available - I'll speak with them. I have returned 1 Canon lens in the UK and 1 Sigma lens in Australia (due to minor, but noticable optical quality issues) and I just showed what I felt were below acceptable levels, and each time the experience went well. I also had my flash refusing to go up on my 7D which was serviced under warrantee (it's a noted design problem with some Canon DSLRs) without any issues.
On several purchase occasions in store, I've had good deals - where I've demonstrated I'm a loyal customer (or purchased bundles), and often staff have been helpful in informing me when new stock has arrived.
I'm very pleased with the reduction in the price of goods in Australia. I almost did a double take to see the 7D camera selling for around $1350 in a few places in Australia (eg the online @ JBHi-Fi). I bought the 7D when it was only a few months old for substantially more than that... but I don't regret it (a great camera, and I've taken tens-of-thousands of photos in the meantime!)
Hopefully it will continue to give us good value for money options in 'bricks and mortar' stores, as well as online. I'm willing to buy online & even from overseas for good deals - and have bought a number of items online (lenses, accessories, etc) - but generally prefer the 'in store experience' and 'return options'.
Well... that's a long enough post from me! Hope it's been a useful read.