Buying online can be so convenient. And the prices being offered can make it look so tempting.
But it’s important to remember that buying online isn’t always the same as buying from a store. It should be, but it’s not.
Of course, there are many responsible, reliable online retailers. And buying from them is just as safe as buying from a store.
But there are also many online sellers who aren’t that scrupulous. Who take advantage of being ‘somewhere in the ether’ to part you from your money and provide you with substandard goods and service.
How can you tell the good e-retailer from the bad?
Here’s TEN easy ways to help safeguard your money when buying musical instruments online.
- Warranty and customer service: what warranty is offered and how do they handle complaints or questions? Australia’s consumer protection laws are very strong … but that’s not the case iin many of the countries you can buy from online. There is no such thing as an ‘international warranty’. Whoever supplies the goods into Australia is responsible for the warranty. If you buy directly from an overeseas seller then you can’t claim for free warranty repairs or service from the Australian importer.
- Does the online seller have a street address that you can go to if things go wrong? Or do they only have a PO Box or an overseas address? If they won’t resolve your problem by email or phone, where can you reach them? Australian best practice is that an online seller should provide their ABN (Australian Business Number), physical address, and phone and fax numbers. This is important when buying musical instruments online. There have been cases where online sellers do not have authorised access to many of the products they claim to sell on the sites. These will usually only have an email enquiry form rather than a phone number, address etc. Establish this contact before you send your money. Remember there are many good Australian websites, that are often attached to a bricks n mortar store.
- How will the instruments be supplied? Many instruments sold online are like flat-pack furniture – you have to assemble them. So please factor in the cost of set up, especially if you’re buying orchestral strings or guitars. A full set up will cost from $80-$150, depending on the instrument.
- Are you buying more than one instrument online? If so, we strongly recommend you buy just one instrument to test the quality before investing more money. We regularly hear of schools that have spent $6,000 – $8,000 only to find they have received ‘objects resembling instruments’ – the trumpet valves are soldered closed, the trombone slide won’t, and the violin bridge and tuning pins are so unstable they won’t stay in place.
- Buy with a credit card, PayPal or, if you’re spending a large sum of money, use an escrow service. PayPal has some limited ability to recover your money. Your credit card company may assist in helping you recover your money (check with them before you buy). An escrow service is like putting money in trust – you put the money into the escrow account, the supplier sends you the goods and if you’re happy with them you direct the escrow firm to release the money to the seller. If the goods aren’t right, you return the goods to the seller and the escrow service gives you your money back. (Check the terms and conditions of the escrow service before you use it.) If the supplier won’t allow you to use an escrow service, then we recommend you walk away. Any reputable company will accept escrow.
- Is it a genuine musical instrument or a toy? Many toys are accurate reproductions of a genuine instrument … to look at. But the tuning and size of the instrument isn’t right and your child won’t be able to learn to play on them. If you’re buying from a grocery store, toy store or department store ask the sales people specifically “is this a toy or a genuine musical instrument” and if they say it’s a genuine instrument ask them to show you what makes it genuine and not a toy. If they can’t tell you, how do they know it’s not a toy?
- Is it a genuine instrument or fake? If the price is significantly lower than the same product in a store then be suspicious. Check carefully, some fakes look great until you check inside. Be very careful of anything technical. We have examples of mics that looks great on the outside but are filled with nothing but washers, or that would blow up any system they are connected to.
- Is it a high tech product that normally comes with tech support and/or free upgrades? If so, unless you buy from an authorised retailer in Australia you won’t qualify for that support or those upgrades. You may decide that the price difference is worth not having those services – that’s your call. But make an informed choice: check that you are comparing like with like when you get an online price.
- Check the power supplies. If you’re buying an instrument that plugs in, check what power supply it comes with. Converters can end up costing the difference between the two prices … and this will also affect the warranty.
- Are they members of the Australian Music Association? If they are, you can rest assured they’re a genuine business, with an office or store in Australia. Check them out at www.australianmusic.asn.au under Find a Retailer. We recommend that our members always use our logo on their website and we investigate immediately anyone who uses our logo and who isn’t a member.
Where else can you go for advice about buying online?
The ACCC website has some great advice for safely participating in an internet auction and protecting yourself when buying online and your right to a refund when buying online and not getting caught out by internet scams.
EConsumer also has some great online shopping tips to help keep you keep safe.
ScamWatch has lots of info about what the common online scams are and how to avoid them.
Wikipedia has a useful explanation of escrow service. (Check to see if the page has been wikified).
Where do you go to complain about goods bought online?
What you need to know is what country the seller is in. That’s the jurisdiction you need to appeal to.
Seller is in Australia:
Your first port of call should be the seller. They may refer you to the importer. If you have no joy there, then here’s your next steps:
There is no single authority in Australia responsible for internet sellers …
Here are some options:
Report the seller to the consumer affairs or fair trading authority in the State they are in (not the State you are in).
Contact the ACCC. They don’t always pursue individual complaints, but they may be able to give you some guidance about what to do next.
You could pursue the seller through the Magistrate’s Court or through the small claims process. These vary by State and Territory, so best to Google for the options. Check to see if you should apply to the jurisdiction of the seller or the buyer.
Seller is overseas
Again, your first action should be to complain to the seller. If you have bought from an overseas seller then Australian consumer protection laws and authorities don’t apply – they may or may not respond.
If you have no satisfaction from the seller, the consumer protection bodies – if any exist – in the country of the seller have authority, so you should contact them. Best to Google your options.
Consider making a report to ICPEN – The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network. You may not get satisfaction for your particular case, but they share information across borders … so if there are many complaints about the same company the local consumer protection body may act.
Similarly, EConsumer registers and shares complaints across borders.
If you have a branded product that is imported to Australia by an authorised importer then they will have a service centre and technical support. If you need a repair or tech support from overseas, you won’t be able to claim under warranty or as part of their after-sales service, but the ocal importer may repair or advise you for a fee.