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Tourist Guide to Buying Camera Gears in Singapore

I’ve been asked a couple of times in Philippine-based forums about tips of where to buy photography gears in Singapore, one member  suggested that I just write an entry about it, so here it is.

Disclaimer: This guide is only meant for to make your shopping safe and easy if you’re a tourist or visitor. As always, locals may have their way of negotiating and “style” of dealing with lesser known stores around this tiny island nation.

This is true whether you’re shopping in New York, Hong Kong, Japan, or anywhere in the world.

This guide is for those who only have a week or less of stay in Singapore and decided to buy their camera gears here. I will not guarantee that my advice in this article is absolute, your mileage may and will vary.

If there are any experienced Singapore camera shoppers out there reading this, feel free to add your experiences.

Like any other purchases, know the following first:

1) How much your targeted item(s) cost in your country, based on commercial exchange rates. You wouldn’t want to spend more just because you got the exchange rate wrong. If the price difference is small, get it from your home country due to warranty and replacement concerns.

2) Know the warranty condition of the item. Some stores may sell your an original camera, but most camera bodies only offer local warranties. If you bring them out of the country, your local service center may or may not service your unit, if they would, a hefty surcharge may apply, particularly with Nikon equipment as they have a stricter ‘grey market’ policy than other manufacturers..

3) Know what should be included in a brand-new box. Virtually all websites will provide you a “what’s in the box?” section that enumerates the content of a factory-fresh package. If the store tells you that your cam will not come with a battery but the website states it should, walk away. Take note if the accessory is an original item, especially for things like lens hoods and batteries as 3rd party items look similar to the untrained eye.

4) Use a credit card, it’s easier to dispute and get your money back with credit than in cash.

5) Know how to test your unit. Even the most reputable brand and store can get a lemon unit once in a while, make sure you know how to test the item you’re purchasing.

6) Never fall for the “accessories” sales pitch unless it’s in your shopping plans.

It’s the salesman’s job to make your purchase more items from the store. If the tag price is clearly printed, follow pointer #1, then if your budget allows, go for it. If the salesperson is pressuring you to get accessories, some shady shops may put a hefty profit on the accessories that you may not be aware of. Get your accessories like memory cards from larger chain stores instead, the price discrepancy isn’t that great.

7) Last, but not least. DON’T BE STUPID and GREEDY! All forms of scams feed on greed, if you know the market rate for an item is 500 bucks, and someone offers you 300, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that there’s something DEFINITELY wrong with either the item, seller, or transaction.

Don’t cry and complain if your greed caused you harm.

Let’s get started.

Price Reference

Shoppers are lucky to have a pretty accurate and up-to-date price reference courtesy of the largest photography forum in Singapore, Clubsnap.com. Each of the brands in the site’s subsection has a sticky thread for price updates on lenses and cameras, the abbreviations of the store names are provided as well.

Most official websites of larger brands such as Canon and Nikon do post their SRPs on their website, use those as a basis as well.

Lastly, go visit the big chain stores first as well as the airport’s duty-free stores when you land, jot down their pricing and included packages before going to smaller shops.

Goods and Services Tax Refund Scheme

First thing you need to know would be, does the shop offer goods and services tax (GST) refund? Singapore GST is pegged at 7% (as of 2008), all retail items are priced with 7% GST unless otherwise noted by the store. When you depart Singapore though their airports (rail/bus exits through Malaysia aren’t eligible), you can reclaim the 7% GST from your single-receipt purchases over S$300, less service fees. The total refunded amount is usually around the vicinity of 5% of the total gross price.

To know more about Singapore GST refund, refer to this site, this site, the Global Refund site, and the government’s site.

Places to Avoid

There are a couple of well-known “tourist traps” in Singapore for electronics. I may be generalizing a bit and I’m sure a number of folks may tell you that they’ve had good experiences or got great deals, but it’s up to you to take the risk.

Two of the most popular and least trusted places, including for locals, are Sim Lim Square (SLS), and Lucky Plaza (LP) in Orchard Road. These two places are buildings, not shop names. I’m sure that there are one or two shops that are more trustworthy in these two large arcade malls, but as they say, “one rotten apple can spoil the lot”, in the case of SLS and LP, it’s a rarity to see the good apple as most are rotten.

The most common tactic would be the typical price bump. They’ll price their items high right off the bat. There’s technically nothing wrong with the item, it’s just priced way above the usual retail price. Again, remember Point #1 – know how much your targeted item should cost.

Another way of cheating the buyer would be offering you the lower model but at the price point of the higher model. This usually is hard to pull off with more expensive items as price gap between models are substantial. With pocket digicams, accessories, filters, etc, you’ll have a harder time realizing you’re being overpriced. Again, do your homework and remember that you don’t really need to get everything in one place.

The more notorious, yet extremely common tactic they use is to lure you with a low unit price, but conveniently tells you that the item doesn’t include a battery, memory card, or other essential accessory (like a power cable). They usually do this after you say “yes” or after you pay.

They will then tell you that you must purchase the accessory from them to save money. They’ll usually double or triple the price of their accessories to “recoup” their profits from the main item.

Sometimes, they’ll replace the original item with 3rd party ones.

Selling you entry-level filters at a price of a high-end brass filter, selling you 3rd party/over-spec’d batteries at triple the cost of an original battery, or offer to sell you a camera bag that should’ve been free with the purchase of the camera, etc.

There are more notorious cases (usually involving other electrical items like PSPs) where sellers ask you if you want it modified, you say “yes” before asking the price, and they’ll do the mod for you at 3-10x the cost of the unit itself. You can’t say “no” as they’ll tell you that the warranty is already void due to your agreement for modification and you’ll really get into a lot of trouble trying to wiggle your way out of it.

There are multiple instances of store-customer arguments that have led to police intervention and fist fights, neither scenarios will be in your favor. If you’ve already paid for it and found out it’s over-priced, you can’t really claim anything as you’ve agreed to purchase the item at that price.

I’m not exaggerating. Whatever savings you may get isn’t worth the hassle. The odds are stacked against you.

Do remember that these tactics occur in practically all countries that are known to be gadget heavens, not just in Singapore. Every country has one or two areas to avoid, particularly areas where tourists are lured by the bright neons and flamboyant salesman at the door.

Where to Buy

Singapore is a relatively safe place to shop for photography gears as cameras aren’t really considered too much of an extravagant purchase. Most local folks just treat cameras as gadget appliances so they are quite easy to find in nationwide store chains and shopping centers, even DSLRs are just common gadgets like iPads, laptops, or LCD TVs.

Airport

Hey, you entered the country via the airport, right? Unless you entered by land from Malaysia, or by sea, you’ll be entering the country through Changi Airport. The Singapore Changi Airport is huge and there are a couple of duty-free electronic stores inside. Since you’re there anyway, start your price query there.

Ask for the price, the included package, and whether GST has been removed from the price (it’s usually tax-free inside the airport). Jot that down and use that as reference when you shop OUTSIDE the airport.

You’ll have to return to the airport when you fly out anyway, if you can’t find a better deal outside, you can always go back into the airport. Also, read about the Shopping Guarantees of Changi Airport (link), you get more guarantees and peace of mind that you got a good price in the airport.

Nationwide Chain Outlets

The large electronic stores around town such as Courts, Best Denki, Challenger, and Harvey Norman are like Circuit City and Best Buy in the United States, their prices may not be the best you can find around town, but you’re certain that they’re legit and they fall under the acceptable MSRP, so they’re a good “first stop” for most buyers to have a benchmark of how much an item should cost.

If you’re a first time buyer and know little about electronics, these stores will be the safest for you. Options are abundant, especially for more consumer-oriented items like point-and-shoot cameras, but higher-end and more specialized items may be harder to find.

With the smaller shops below, my advice is to visit their webpage and look for their contact or price quote email page, tell them you’re traveling to Singapore and plan to purchase camera gears from them. Be specific with the brand and model that you want to buy and ask for both with and without GST quotes.

Ask if it’s card or cash price as well, some smaller stores offer a discount for cash purchases. However, if you’re sincere and ready to buy, you can usually haggle to get the cash price even if paying by card. I’ve done so quite a few times already with cameras, lenses, and laptops.

Cathay Photo – Peninsula Plaza / Marina Square

One of the largest camera stores in Singapore is Cathay Photo. They are an official distributor of a lot of big name products and they only sell brand-name items. They have two branches, the larger one in Peninsula Plaza near City Hall MRT, and the other in Marina Bay shopping mall, also near City Hall MRT.

They don’t have prices on their cameras as they’re behind the counter, but their accessories and bags do have prices on them. However, in my experience, the prices printed are higher than their actual, so it pays to ask for the price again even if it’s printed on the tag. With all my purchases from Cathay, their actual sale price is lower than the sticker price even without haggling, but friendly haggling is always worth a shot. If haggling with one sales staff doesn’t work, try another guy in the same store.

Their cameras, lenses, and flash units don’t have prices and they’ll often refer to their price book for it. It’s best to inquire by phone or email (see their website’s contact page) for a quote and bring a printed copy before buying in person to prevent price disparity.

This is where I buy 90% of my camera stuff, from cameras itself to accessories. Avoid the small shops beside Cathay if you can.

John 3:16 at Funan Mall – City Hall MRT

John 3:16 carries mostly Nikon gear, but they have significant Canon items as well. They don’t offer a lot of other products but the staff are very helpful and courteous. It’s no wonder that despite their small store size, you’ll see their shop with a customer or two often compared to the other shops inside Funan Mall.

DD-Electronics – South Bridge Road (between Funan an China Town)

DDE actually has an online store, so you can check their site out right-off-the-bat. Their staff is helpful and friendly and they have a physical store as well. DDE only sells GREY MARKET goods, meaning, they’re imported from other countries like Australia and USA. Their prices for premium items are very good if you time your purchase right.

Key points to remember, again:

  1. Know your exchange rates… Find out the local currency amount it takes to buy SG$. People often compute the other way around but that’s not the same as your buying currency rate (particularly if you bought your SG$ from a big bank or airport counters, as their rates are less favorable than smaller stalls). PhP1000 is SG$30.93, but SG$30.93 is only PhP997.84. It may not be much, but it adds up and negates whatever ‘savings’ you may have gained. Depending on your currency’s strength, it may or may not be cheaper to buy it abroad.
  2. Know your fair price limit for the items you want.
  3. Find out if you’ll be taxed in your home country for your purchases.
  4. Don’t be too cheap and greedy. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. You’ll never find a professional camera for the price of a consumer camera. You’ll never find a carbon fiber tripod that cost the same as a aluminum video tripod. You’ll never find a 32-inch LCD for a price of a 15″ LCD of the same brand and spec level.
  5. Lastly, use common sense!

Hope you found this useful.

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