While big box stores like Circuit City, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart have hundreds of locations, million dollar ad campaigns, and big corporate backing, they simply cannot compete with the Internet when it comes to finding the absolute best price and selection for digital cameras. All we needed to do was compare the store's available cameras to the ones online and it became clear: when it comes to pricing, knowledge, and availability, online merchants have a leg up on those big boxes.
Pricing: Where Is the True 'Best Buy'?
Our first test was to look at what we consider to be the "hottest" cameras available at the present time, and compare the in store prices with prices available online through DCHQ. These cameras are all highly rated, and have been around long enough that you would expect to be able to find them, but not so long that they should be out of stock or discontinued in favor of newer models. We settled on Canon's successful SD750, SD850 IS, and SD1000 ultracompacts, the Sony W55, which is currently our highest rated Sony ultracompact, and Panasonic LZ7. As you can see, they are all major brands, and clicking through the links to our DCHQ product pages will demonstrate that they are active, available, and by no means obscure products. Our price and availability findings may surprise you:
Today's Hottest Cameras:
|Camera||Best Buy||Circuit City||Walmart||Target||Lowest Online Retailer Price||Average In-Store Retailer Price||% Difference, Low to High|
|Canon SD850 IS||$349||$332||N/A||N/A||$275||$341||27%|
*Percent difference low to high is the difference between the highest brick-and-mortar price and the lowest online price, calculated as highest price minus lowest price divided by lowest price. Store prices gathered in late September, early October 2007 at retail stores in Santa Clarita, CA; Abington, MA; Boston, MA; Braintree, MA; Brockton, MA; Detroit, MI. Online prices gathered from DigitalCamera-HQ.com affiliates; the lowest price found is featured in the table. N/A means that the camera was not in stock or available at the retail location.
The conclusion is clear: if you're looking for the absolute best price on the latest, hottest cameras, you're much better off shopping online than getting in your car and driving down to the local big box store.
At a big box store like Best Buy or Circuit City, what you see is what you get. Either you take the price they give you or you go home empty handed. That's no fun. And as our table shows, it can be expensive.
Availability: You Can't Buy What They Don't Have
Something that stuck out as we did our in-store research was the relatively limited selection that each of the stores had. Best Buy and Circuit City had a decent inventory, with most of the major cameras and brands, but overall probably had only between 20 or 30 cameras on display. Target was a mixed bag, with a few current or popular cameras mixed in with lesser brands and older models. The absolute worst was Walmart, who had maybe two or three worthwhile cameras available. The rest were from abysmal cheap-o brands like Polaroid or Samsung, and many of the models from name brands like Canon or Kodak were very old.
The big box stores simply can't compete. Online, you can find prices, reviews, and discussion available for around hundreds of cameras, all of which are still current and available for purchase. With such a wide selection, you can be sure that you're really getting the best digital camera possible, and not the best digital camera that's in a particular store.
Opinions: Who Can You Really Trust?
The final reason we feel that shopping online is superior to shopping in a store is the quality of the information available to you when you're making your decision. At a store like Circuit City or Target, all the information you get about a digital camera is present on a single tag the size of an index card. It tells you the name of the product, the price, and some bare-bones specifications like megapixels and zoom. What do those specifications mean? If you don't already know, you're out of luck. The only other resource available is the salesperson, and who knows if they really are knowledgeable about the product or if they're just trying to make a commission? Big box stores are dens of uncertainty.
Here at DCHQ, there are hundreds and hundreds of opinions on digital cameras, not from people with an interest in selling you something, but from people who really own the camera and have used it in their everyday life. We collection these opinions from our own readers and around the web, to provide you with a comprehensive look at what people are saying. That way, when you click the 'Go!' button to make a purchase, you know exactly what you're getting.