Grey goods are products such as computers, cameras, cars, etc., imported into countries via legal unofficial market routes. In this article, I am focusing solely on camera grey goods.
Grey goods originate from what is known as the “grey market” or “dark market”, sometimes confused with the term parallel market.
The trading of grey goods is a commodity trade through distribution channels that the “original manufacturer” or “trade mark proprietor” does not authorise, such as high-end cameras, lenses, etc.
The grey market is also somewhat of a murky area to purchase commodities at a cheaper price; for example, the black market is where illegal goods are traded, and the white market is where legal goods are bought. The grey market falls in between these two markets.
Anyone can sell grey goods, and it’s important to note that grey goods are often sold by people with no relationship with the original manufacturer or trade mark proprietor, which is why you’ll often see private e-commerce sites such as Shopify removing grey good online shops from their servers for fear of being sued due to trademark violations.
There are a few advantages of buying grey goods, such as:
- Grey goods are cheaper than market-priced goods.
- Customers can buy grey goods on the grey market that may not be available in their country.
The disadvantages, though, outweigh the advantages, such as:
- Grey goods do not come with a guarantee from the original manufacturer.
- Grey goods sold as “new” could be counterfeit (fakes) or used, of which it’s often difficult to distinguish one from the other.
- Customers have no technical support or after-sales services, such as a warranty from the original manufacturer.
- Grey goods cannot be returned to the original manufacturer if a fault occurs.
- Delivery times are longer and can take anywhere from 14 days to several months.
- Often, grey goods importers do not use specialist couriers trained to store and handle products with care.
- Grey goods may have been stored at incorrect temperatures or within environments unsuited for that specific product, i.e. cameras and lenses stored in dusty or humid places.
- Grey goods may not be made according to the intended audience.
- There’s no guarantee that the importer you’re buying from is trying to scam you.
Where do grey-good importers buy their commodities from and at what price?
Most cameras, lenses and electronics are purchased in bulk from wholesalers such as AAKASH International. For example, AAKASH will be the buyer, dealer and shipper to small independent camera equipment buyers overseas, such as U.K. grey goods importers.
Buying direct from an overseas wholesaler is considered cheaper and safer. For example, AAKASH promises to deal in original and branded products, quickly facilitate closing deals, excel in global distribution where others have failed, and protect the buyer’s money.
Prices vary; for example, a Canon EOS 90D Digital SLR Body costs £1,149 at WEX, whereas I can buy the same model for £813.92 in Japan. Bulk buys will be cheaper depending on which wholesaler you use.
As a buyer of grey goods, I’ve found that lenses are considerably cheaper on the grey market. A Sony FE 70-200mm lens seen below on sale at Park Cameras is trading at £2,599.
However, in Japan, I can purchase the same lens for £1,462GBP or ¥267,300 (Japanese Yen). While there’s not that much difference in price, as mentioned above, buying in bulk does significantly lower the price which in turn makes these products more favorable to consumers in countries where they’re priced much higher.
The U.K. cost of living crisis also makes the grey market a luxury for those struggling through this current financial crisis, as the New York Times reported in 2021.
However, it’s not all a bed of roses, and this is where consumers need to be careful. For instance, a minority of grey goods importers prefer to purchase camera equipment in bulk from sites such as eBay, Taobao, Craigslist, Newegg, Facebook Marketplace etc., that are then re-sold on the same sites under suspicious company names.
When online buyers of grey goods cut corners and the meet and greet of a potential wholesale supplier overseas and instead manage everything from the comfort of their home, consumers could be purchasing illegal, used, damaged or even counterfeit goods.
One online trader that goes under the alias Aslan 7 on the eBay community said:
“I recently bought a camera lens from a dealer here who had many sales and seemed legit. Not knowing this area very well I presumed it was an authorized dealer.
It turns out that the company is using a different name here than its real one and it is a notoriously bad outfit. In the listing they claimed to have two of the items in stock and that it would be shipped from the West Coast. I bought the item Dec. 3 and still have not received it.
On Dec. 7 they printed a USPS label but still nothing has been picked up. When I asked they said there were holiday delays but USPS says they never received the item and there are no such delays on record.
Any inquiry is met with feeble excuses and lies. It since turns out that this is a disreputable Hong Kong scam operation that sells grey market products so you don’t get the manufacturer warranty.
Other sites are filled with complaints about the worthless year warranty they offer. I think there should be more upfront information about such scams. Of course eBay has a conflict of interest because this company has sold roughly 2,000 high ticket items.”Source: Aslan 7
While some offers are tempting, such as this Nikon Z 9 with a saving of $1,245.04, buyers should always exercise caution; even if eBay has specific rules that protect consumers, they can be bent or broken.
Moreover, it’s difficult to tell if an item sold as “new” has been used, returned, or stored in the wrong environment.
6th Ave Electronics is listed as trading the Nikon above. However, they allegedly went into liquidation in 2012.
Their eBay store has mostly good reviews, but elsewhere, that’s not the case, and all the negative reviews I found regarding 6th Ave Electronics were typical of shady grey market goods importers.
Below I’ve included a few customer reviews regarding 6th Ave Electronics that has a very shady trading history.
On the 5th March, 2023, Alia of Folsom, CA said:
“I ordered a Canon camera online from Walmart and apparently this third party company fulfilled the order with a fake camera.
I was unable to register it and contacted Canon who advised this was not a genuine Canon camera. Buyer beware! I am returning the camera and am incredibly upset!!!!”Source: Alia of Folsom, CA – 6th Ave Electronics
On January 12th, 2022, Steve of Troy, MI said:
“These guys have no business being in business. I purchased a camera and after purchasing, they have this weird way of authorizing it’s you who made the purchase by sending in your driver’s license.
Once that’s done, then they save it (weird as hell). And the next time. you purchase something of a larger amount, then they have it on file and they have to apply that verification to the next purchase (wow!).
Once I paid and confirmed with 3 different people to make sure it would ship the same day (which they’ve done before) all 3 different reps said (yes it will ship today and we will send tracking asap). Of course, that didn’t happen.
They ONLY ship FedEx Ground and use ABSOLUTELY NO packaging to save money with package weight. Fedex of course delayed my package after having to wait the whole weekend.
Finally, I get my package, barely any tape on the box, half way opened, razor cut on the top of the box and the camera box, camera box was opened with paperwork EVERYWHERE, charging cable was outside the box and placed in the shipping box next to the camera box.
On top of that, they sent the wrong camera. At this point, I’m laughing at how stupid this is and how livid I am does no justice.
I asked the manager if they can send me my actual camera once they see that fedex has the item and it’s being shipped back, you would think they’d do the right thing, NO! the manager says, “We have to have it in hand before we can ship yours out.” Are you kidding me? NEVER AGAIN!!!! And I will copy and paste this review anywhere I can. Save yourself the headache and shop elsewhere. Saving money just isn’t worth it!Source: Steve of Troy, MI – 6th Ave Electronics
As mentioned above, eBay does have policies in place that protect consumers. However, rules can be bent or broken.
Had the customer below not taken images of the grey import he purchased from 6th Avenue Electronics, they would not have honoured the customer’s refund. Therefore, consumers must always research before buying products from grey goods importers.
If its too good to be true, it probably is!
A minority of grey market camera dealers often use misleading advertising to trick you into thinking the product is genuine. I’ve lost count of the number of people such traders have scammed.
Grey market camera dealers will often engage in misleading advertising tactics. They are designed to trick you into thinking the product is legitimate.
Furthermore, major camera gear manufacturers strongly advise against buying grey market cameras or equipment. However, there are several steps you can take before you consider buying a grey market camera product, such as:
- Check the domain
Scammers tend to create catchy domain names such as “ipadoffers.com” or “discountcameras.org”, etc.
Consumers should be cautious of domains with catchy names, such as the above or domains ending in .net or .org.
- Is the offer too good to be true?
If the offer is too good to be true, it probably is. Scam websites use low prices on bulk buys to target vulnerable people.
Sometimes, scammers also use pushy language or a countdown timer to pile on the pressure to buy something while the offer lasts, so be alert to this.
- Never pay by bank transfer
If you are asked to pay for a product by bank transfer, don’t, its 99% likely a scam.
If you buy an item that turns out to be fake or non-existent with a credit or debit card, you have some rights to get your money back. However, you have no rights if you’ve paid by bank transfer, meaning you’ll never see your money again.
- Browse the website
Take a few minutes to browse a website. Navigate to the About section if it has one; if it doesn’t, that should be your first red flag. Furthermore, look for grammar and punctuation mistakes which will be your second red flag.
Look for an address, contact telephone number, customer service details etc. If the site has no contact points or a valid address, this will be your third red flag!
Keep an eye out for pixelated images or graphics and out-of-date logos or branding. These could indicate that scammers are attempting to imitate a legitimate brand or need more resources to create a professional website.
If in doubt, check the domain out here: www.scamadviser.com if the domain ranks low its highly likely a scam.
Is it worth the risk?
This question was difficult to answer before purchasing my first lens from a grey goods importer. I researched several suppliers, looked up hundreds of reviews, and contacted the suppliers too.
However, I will admit I came very close to parting with a significant amount of money only to find at the last minute that the company was selling used camera equipment (cleaned up to look new) at a lower price than their competitors.
Fortunately, after researching the company, conducting my checks with Scam Advisor, and asking the online photography community, I avoided that company like the plague.
I later found out they were based in Hong Kong and not England. The company had registered with Companies House, thus making out they were an English-based company when it was a scammer based in Hong Kong selling counterfeit and used goods.
So, the question remains, is it worth it, and are there any genuine companies selling legitimate grey camera goods?
If you’re genuinely looking at saving a few pounds, then yes, it’s worth it. Furthermore, several well-established grey goods importers in the United Kingdom have been trading for years that can be trusted. However, hundreds more are not legit and will likely scam you.
The disadvantages of buying a grey good product far outweigh the advantages. For example, if your product is faulty, you can’t return it to the original manufacturer, and receiving a new or repaired model from the grey market seller can be awkward, depending on which supplier you use.
Delivery times will always be longer when buying from a grey importer ranging from several days to several months. For example, if the supplier hasn’t got the product you want and needs to import it from South East Asia, it will take weeks rather than days.
Grey goods may not be made according to the intended audience, and there’s no guarantee that the person or company you’re buying from is trying to scam you.
Furthermore, it’s probably best to avoid all grey good market sites on sites such as eBay unless you can verify their selling location, address, whether they do have a legitimate, established business, where they buy their goods from, returns policy, genuine reviews, etc., and much more.
For the past several years, I have used the following three companies to purchase my grey-market cameras, lenses and lights from, such as:
Panomoz and Cotswold Cameras are my go-to suppliers, and while they import from South East Asia, they’re both true to their word and have many good reviews too.
Portus sells laptops, high-end computer gear, monitors, etc., and has many great reviews.
Based on my research, though, and talking with fellow photographers that have bought cameras and lenses from HDEW and SLR Hut, they do not appear to be professional traders; therefore, it’s probably best to avoid them unless you can verify their trading standards and returns policy etc.
I hope this article has helped you in your quest to buy a commodity from the grey market; if you have any questions, please email me below.
J. J. Williamson | The Norfolk Photographer
My name is Jon Williamson; I’m an ethical photographer and writer with fifteen years of experience in the industry. I shoot landscapes, seascapes, riverscapes, fine art, and portraits. I also run workshops, run tours, and offer one-on-one photography feedback.