Ultimate Guide to Purchasing Photographic Equipment in Singapore

1. What every camera buyer needs to know

Singapore is a great place for electronics – the little city nation carries numerous top makes and models at competitive price. Thus it has always garnered considerable interest from tourists, especially the good folks in Europe and Australia, where taxes are high.

However, before we dive into the details of shopping in Singapore, it is wise to note that Singapore is not always the cheapest. I personally purchase a considerable amount of electronic goods from Hong Kong. The astute buyer always does his homework!

2. Three basic rules you must follow

Before we proceed with the guide, I require the reader to comply with some simple basic rules that wiill certainly enhance the shopping experience.

Rule 1: Always do your homework. That means:

  • Check your local stores and the authorized internet dealers serving your location for your local price. There may be occasions where your local dealer is able to offer you an attractive price due to some promotion, either by the store or supported by the manufacturer.

  • After that, check the official Singapore manufacturer websites to determine the price of that special electronic item that you are eyeing. Most manufacturers state their Recommended Retail Price (RRP) online. The websites are usually easy to find; you simply add a “.sg” at the end of the URL or simply search the make and model, followed by “Singapore” in your preferred search engine.

Rule 2: Always do a sanity check. That means,

  • When a deal is too good to be true, it probably is
  • When prices get past the RRP, do not purchase it.
  • When items that are supposed to come with the item as listed on the box or the website are “sold separately” by the dealer, do not purchase it.

Rule 3: Ultimately, you have to accept that you may not always get the BEST deal. However, as long as you are paying significantly lower than what you can get for at home, I would think that is a decent deal.

Right! So let's start!

3. The Must Know Camera Locations in Singapore

There are several places where you are able to purchase photographic equipment in Singapore. Since this guide is targeted also at visitors of Singapore, I shall focus on the more centralized areas.

There are generally 2 types of electronic stores in Singapore:

  1. All-in-one Electronic Chain Stores
  2. Private Retailers

3.1 All-in-one Electronic Chain Stores

Here is a list of the all-in-one chain electronic stores

As you can see from the individual websites, the chain stores are conveniently located all over the city center and Orchard Road shopping belt.

Entrance to the Best Denki outlet in Ngee Ann City

For first timers, the large chain stores do provide for a fairly decent shopping experience. The quality of the salespersons may vary in their product knowledge, but most should be able to handle novice questions.

They also provide for a wide selection and have all prices clearly stated, with no gimmicks. In addition, you can be assured that the equipment sold are genuine and supported with local warranty.

However, unless you are familiar with the local bargaining scene, you will most likely have to pay the RRP, usually with a couple freebies thrown in. For those who are willing to nudge a little more, there have been reported instances where the large chain stores are able to come up with a “special price” for you.

Nonetheless, I would expect this to be rare, especially for our international friends. Of course, as international visitors, you are able to claim for a tax refund, which all of the large chain stores will be delighted to assist you.

3.2 Private Retailers

Private retailers are specialized independent stores selling electronic equipment. Many of them are authorized dealers and retailers of their respective principals, although it is always wise to check them against the list on the official manufacturer websites.

Some private retailers that have often been brought up in the local photography scene and local online forums with generally positive remarks include:

Funan Digital Mall (109 North Bridge Road, 179097)
Sim Lim Square (1 Rochor Canal Road, 188504)
Peninsula Plaza (Next to Funan - 111 North Bridge Road 179098)
Other City Outlets
  • Max Photo (176 Orchard Road, Centrepoint, #03-10)
  • iPhoto (304 Orchard Road, Lucky Plaza, #01-79)
Other out of city areas

You may notice that several of the stores mentioned above seem to be located in the same building. That is certainly true. In essence, Singapore has a few key locations where these retailers can be found. Just know which are the good ones. It's hard to tell if you're a first time buyer. These locations are:

  • Funan Digitalife Mall (North Bridge Road, near City Hall MRT Station)
  • Sim Lim Square (Bencoolen Street, near Bugis MRT Station)
  • Far East Plaza (Scotts Road, near Orchard Road / Orchard MRT Station)
  • Lucky Plaza (Orchard Road, near Orchard MRT Station)

Lucky Plaza, along Orchard Road

First, you can be fairly sure that the product you are purchasing is genuine. That is, the Canon camera you purchased in Singapore is probably the real deal. There have been cases of fake rechargeable batteries and lens filters that have surfaced ever so rarely, but you can be 99.9% sure that the large ticket items are genuine.

However, the story does not end there. There are generally 2 categories of genuine equipment:

  • Goods that are brought in via official channels and authorized for local sale by the manufacturer (“Local Set”)
  • Goods that are imported from other countries and sold locally, which, while completely legit, is not backed by the manufacturer. (“grey goods”)

Now that we get this part settled, this is where things get delicate.

Private retailers often have access to both “local sets” and “grey goods”. Thus, when purchasing, please be sure to check for this distinction. Price is often an indicator of its status. Other ways to check is to look for clues in the warranty card, and if the manuals and default language in the camera are in English.

While some stores may be authorized dealers for certain brands, they may not be for others. Thus, never assume that any store is an authorized dealer for all the brands they carry.

Buying experience often vary greatly – You may be pleasantly greeted and served by a very knowledgeable staff, or you may receive rude 1 word retorts to your questions, all in the same store!

Therefore I must caution all who wish to explore the private retailers – just like any pirate looking for treasure, you can be rewarded with an absolutely delightful deal, but the journey will be fraught with dangers and traps. There may also be an unlucky few who may not enjoy the buying experience. Thus, once again, caveat emptor!

For the fearless reader, read on!

3.3. Private Retailers - Unlocking the Hidden Treasure

Remember the rules we talked about earlier? You really need to count on those rules now!

Store Front of iPhoto, Lucky Plaza

3.3.1 Reconnaissance - Gathering Intelligence!

Knowledge is power! Thus, first scout around; walk into each store and make a simple enquiry of the price of your preferred make and model. The best idea is to head to the 4 malls listed above where the retailers exist; of which Funan Digitalife Mall and Sim Lim Square have the highest concentration of.

The strategy is simple – Just poke your head in, be all confident and ask for the price. Do not be enticed by any particular store just because the verbal quote is excellent. I shall be discussing with you some common tricks the unscrupulous dealers employ. Once you know the price they offer, just walk out.

Repeat this until you have gathered at least 5 quotes. You now have the price range from different dealers. Now, EXIT the building, find a nice spot, sit down and collect your thoughts.

We have to first compare the quoted prices against the RRP listed on the manufacturer’s website and the price at home. How much cheaper is it to purchase from the private retailers? Are we talking about just S$50, or several hundreds or even several thousands?!

If the price range is extremely wide, you have to ask yourself, is the range too large? Is the cheapest quote too good to be true? (Remember, Rule #2!!) If the range is too large, it is probably wiser to get a couple more quotes from some of the other stores to produce a better average price.

3.3.2 Getting the Freshest Fish - Checking that the Product is New and Complete

If you are comfortable with the prices and experience thus far, then proceed to your preferred store and be enthralled!

Salespeople are usually very sharp and can smell a paying customer pretty much as well as a shark can smell blood. The moment you return to the same store, they will be keen to serve you, since your return probably means you would like to make a purchase from them.

Do not let your guard down. Do not let the salesperson lull you into purchasing anything else but the product you have in mind.

Get them to physically present to you the product, complete with all the accompanying accessories and the box. You will be allowed to switch on and handle the product.

Check for any signs of use or tampering – Has the seal on the box been broken? Does the serial number of the product tally with that found on the warranty card? Are all accessories present and unused?

Ask if the product is a “local set” or “grey goods”. Confirm your understanding by checking against the warranty card. The warranty card usually will bear the stamp or some other proof of the manufacturer’s local legal entity. (E.g. XXX Company, Singapore)

3.3.3 Lock & Load - Getting What You Want at the Best Price

Once you are confident that the set is new and working, we have to decide on the price!

Cash is always preferred, and you often get a small discount if you are paying with the Singapore currency. Small retailers often would quote a higher price as they need to factor in the charges by the credit card companies. Although we know that cash is preferred, here’s the plan. Tell them you want to pay by credit card. We shall see why later! ;-)

The price the small retailers would be charging you should be at least 10%-20% less than the RRP. Of course, the final price will depend on the particular product you are buying, but you ought to be wary if it isn’t at least 10% off the RRP.

Be clear if you wish to file for a tax refund. The retailer will have to factor that in too.

Let’s say after bargaining, you have arrived at $XXX for your product. Wonderful! Now, for the trump card! Tell the salesperson you changed your mind and wish to pay by cash instead. Ask if you can have a further discount. The salesperson will usually offer an additional 2-3% discount off the final price of $XXX. Additional savings! Alright!!

Before handing over the cash, be sure that you have checked that the product and all its accessories are safely packed in the box and that the invoice and tax refund forms clearly filled. Once you hand over the cash, it gets a lot harder to take it back!

The Biggest Mistakes Camera Buyers make

3.3.4 Knowing the Game - Understanding the Tricks some Unscrupulous Dealers Employ

Always be on guard in case the salesperson tries to pull a fast one on you! Pressure Tactics

Dealers may attempt to use pressure to get you to purchase the product immediately. They may offer you a story about some limited promotion that ends today (what extraordinary luck that you are here on the last day!), that the product is selling fast, that all electronic stores will be shut down for the next week for some public holiday. The stories can get quite incredulous, but the point remains the same. As a customer, you are free to buy the product any time you want. Unless you are hunting for some limited edition item, if the product is available today, it will most likely be available tomorrow, as it will be next week, next month, and probably the next year.

Never ever feel pressured or threatened to make a purchase. If you feel threatened at any point of time, simply leave the store. If there is any attempt to stop you from leaving, do not hesitate to call the police at the number 999 or 112, the latter being the international number of emergency services. Bait-and-Switch

So the dealer knows that you like the price, and impresses you with his product knowledge and charisma. Everything is intact, everything is perfect. You like him. You trust him. But wait! He has more! He asks why you would want to go for Product X when there is a better Product Y! He then proceeds to dazzle you with the features of Product Y. Hey, you like it! And this is a trusted store right? Ok. No sweat, you make the purchase, and off you go…. Until you realized – Product Y costs half as much as you paid everywhere else. What happened? This is an age-old tactic known as “bait-and-switch”.

The dealer seeks to gain your trust by offering you an attractive price for the item you have in mind. But of course, he has no interest in selling you that item at that price. What he is keen to do is to earn your trust and belief that this is an honest store that will always offer incredible deals to its clients. Once you have taken the “bait”, he makes the “switch”. Beware! Keeping Your Guard Up

There are a million tricks that a dishonest salesperson may employ, and there are probably new tricks appearing every week. Thus, always keep your guard up and apply Rule #2! If it is too good to be true, it probably is!

4. Conclusion

So there you have it, my dear readers. I hope you find this guide informative and may you have an enjoyable experience shopping for photographic equipment in Singapore! 

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Disclosure: Throughout the period of 2006 – 2013, the author has purchased goods and services from the following vendors mentioned in the list below:

  • Alan Photo
  • iPhoto
  • TK Foto

 The total amount of purchases in this period does not exceed S$5,000.


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