Grey Imports and the Pitfalls and Perils of Warranties

I have always been suspicious of warranties. Given the level of protection afforded us in the UK by the Sales of Goods and Services Act they seem redundant. After all a 12 month guarantee is enshrined in law, so why do we need any manufacturer backing? This absurdity is further compounded by the ridiculous hoops that companies make us jump through to ensure that the warranties are valid. Register online, retain the receipts, keep a note of the serial number, make sure you don’t lose the toilet paper thin slip of paper stuck at the bottom of the box. All told it is a lot of messing about for something that, assuming the product is built to a decent quality, we probably won’t need.

That said when it came to laying out for my camera gear I made sure that I followed the procedures set down to the letter. Given that my camera and lenses are worth significantly more than my car it seemed prudent that I should have recourse for action should something go awry. However, it turns out that despite my best efforts I have still managed to fall foul of the technicalities by unknowingly purchasing a camera that is a grey import. For those who are unaware a ‘grey import’ is a product that was intended for sale in another country or region. A lot of manufacturers price their products differently in different areas and different governments set taxes at different levels on consumer electronics. This means certain high end goods (for example a £4000 Nikon D4) can retail in places like Hong Kong cheaper than the wholesale price in the UK or US. The upshot of this is that some savvy business people can purchase them in bulk, ship them over and then under cut the local market. At first pass this seems like a win/win scenario, the consumer gets a good deal on a product and the supplier makes a healthy mark up which is all well and good until the item develops a fault.

For me it was my D700 that started having an issue with the hot shoe sync. A quick blast of Google-fu and it turned out to be quite a common problem so given that the camera was only 6 months old I packed it all up and posted it to Nikon so their usually excellent warranty department can take care of it. The next day their customer care representative was on the phone. They had checked the serial number and the camera had been sold in Hong Kong and as such wasn’t covered under European warranty. I went back to the original listing on eBay (really, that should have been a warning sign) and the camera was advertised as “UK Stock ready for immediate dispatch” so I contacted the seller and they explained they had ‘made a mistake due to mix up in their warehouse’ *cough* bull crap *cough*and sent me the wrong camera. However they went on to reassure that the camera did have a warranty but I would have to post it back to Hong Kong for it to be honoured!

As you could imagine I was livid. To make matters worse my credit card company were powerless as the transaction had been handled through PayPal. It turns out if you use PayPal you lose your credit card’s security because no contract exists between them and the supplier. All responsibility passes to PayPal as the mediator. My next step was to contact PayPal (you may know them as the people that advertise how safe and secure they are to use) and they could do nothing because the item was over 90 days old.

In short, I was boned.

The most frustrating part of this was despite how careful I had been yet I had still fallen fowl of the fine print. I had made sure to buy UK stock, I had filled out all the forms, registered the products online and kept hold of the warranty cards yet somehow I still ended up with an expensive camera that had no protection under UK law. For the record I don’t blame Nikon for this, they have to protect their product somehow although given that all the cameras are manufactured to the same specification a world wide warranty cover would be nice. I had no choice but to foot the hefty bill for the repair as I couldn’t be without the camera for the month or more it would take to ship it to Hong Kong and back. All told I learnt a few important lessons; credit cards are worthless on PayPal, PayPal protection isn’t worth a damn after 90 days, people lie on eBay, and most importantly check your gear with the manufacturer to make sure it is UK stock!

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2 thoughts on “Grey Imports and the Pitfalls and Perils of Warranties

  1. Good information. For reasons I can’t begin to explain, I have always had an uneasy feeling about PayPal. But it seems that the person selling on eBay is the true culprit. Another example of “buyer beware”. Thanks for the warning.

    • Yeah, the whole 90 day cut off is ridiculous. Also when I spoke they couldn’t give me a straight answer about the whole ‘grey import’ issue. No one could state if advertising UK stock and then shipping from Hong Kong was in fact a violation of their terms of service.

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