Monday, September 30, 2013

It's (Er, It Was) On Amazon: Amazon Warehouse Deals, CamelCamelCamel, and the $170 Sony NEX-F3

This week's "It's On Amazon post" is a little different from those that came before, mainly because it focuses not so much on the specific product - the Sony NEX-F3 - but rather on the elements that came together to make it such an unheard of deal.

The Sony NEX-F3 is Sony's now-discontinued (in favor of the NEX-3N) entry-level mirrorless camera.  It retailed for $600 back when it arrived in early 2012, and was hailed as a solid bargain (though some reviewers believed that the generation-older NEX-C3, at the same price, was a better deal still), but often goes for around $350 refurbished or in great used condition.  I was shopping around Amazon and Adorama for a cheap entry-level digital camera that would allow me to step down from the FujiFilm X100 that I purchased last year, which was both a little more and a little less than I needed.  I was considering the Nikon D3100 refurbished from Adorama for $350, but waited a bit too long and by the time I was ready to pull the trigger they were out of stock.  I expanded my search to include mirrorless models and came across a single used Sony NEX-F3 for $171.01, less than half the usual price.  While that sometimes happens when the unit in question is in questionable condition or from an unknown third-party seller, this NEX-F3 was in "Very Good" condition and being sold by Amazon Warehouse Deals itself.

Half convinced that it was an error that Amazon would catch mid-processing, I quickly snapped it up and waited for it to ship.  When it did, I ventured to, a price tracking resource that allows you to see price trends on Amazon - sometimes going back for years.  Its NEX-F3 tracking page revealed that my purchase was just a dollar above the all-time lowest price for a used model on Amazon (which most likely means that I would have saved a dollar on the same camera had I purchased it on September 5th rather than September 8th).

As with everything else I've purchased from Warehouse Deals, the camera and its accessories were immaculate.  I had a very hard time discerning what signs of wear, if any, had led Amazon's condition grading department to classify the camera as "Very Good" rather than "Like New."  Putting the camera through its paces - including a shot-for-shot head-to-head with the X100 - left me with a very favorable impression.  If the X100 is a street photography specialist, the NEX-F3 is a strong all-arounder for a casual photographer and sometimes videographer.  And at $170, it's a bargain that simply can't be beat on today's digital camera marketplace.

I'm still not sure why this particular pre-loved NEX-F3 ended up on Warehouse Deals at such a discounted price, or whether a deal like this will come about again in the near future.  But I think that we can take away several lessons from this noteworthy shopping anecdote that will help to put us in a position to be ready when it ever happens again to a product we're interested in.

1) Always shop around.  If I hadn't jumped from Adorama to Amazon, I would never have come across the NEX-F3 deal.  Moreover, if I hadn't been looking around for pricing cues, I wouldn't have realized just how much of a bargain the NEX-F3 was at a sub-$200 price point.

2) Use price tracking websites to evaluate how much of a deal you're getting.  This applies specifically to Amazon purchases, but if you're anything like me, those tend to make up a substantial proportion of online expenditures.  Websites like allow you to put price reductions that look like a good deal on their own into the proper perspective.

3) If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is . . . but sometimes it's the real deal.  While it's probably best in most instances to stick to the rule of thumb that warns against going after deals that seem almost too good, there are some rare instances where it may actually be worth taking the plunge.  Where the seller is a trusted and dependable source like Amazon (or its Warehouse Deals) with a fantastic return policy, the risk of a deal being too good to be true is largely mitigated.  If you stick to reliable sources and only spend what you can afford to spend - not to mention only buy what will actually give you marginal utility, as opposed to deal hunting for deal hunting's sake - then there's no reason you shouldn't take the plunge when the opportunity arises.

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