Connecticut Better Business Bureau urges consumers to know the risks involving so-called gray market products.
Unlike black market contraband such as illegal drugs and weapons, gray market merchandise is for sale through a number of areas such as small websites and online auction sites.
Gray market goods are defined as products manufactured for export to other countries where they are sold for lower prices than in the U.S., and imported back to this country, where they are sold for less money than the same merchandise produced for the domestic market.
“Everyone looks for the lowest prices when shopping online, but there can be risks involved unless you ask the right questions,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz. “Gray market merchandise poses a number of problems, and safety risks.”
Since the products are manufactured for export, they are not covered by standard U.S. manufacturers’ warranties and may be assembled with cheaper components. More serious problems involve the safety of the merchandise.
Gray market products may not meet U.S. safety and environmental standards, such as flammability tests and electrical safety requirements. These are significant issues to consider, especially when buying gray market toys, apparel and electronic products.
“The sales of these products can hurt American distributors’ sales, and gray market goods can hurt consumers as well because of different labeling and quality control.”
BBB offers tips to help consumers identify gray market merchandise:
Check to see if the price is unrealistically low – While there are great price breaks online, beware of a brand name product being sold at for significantly less than manufacturer’s price. Another sign is that the user’s manual is not printed in English.
Ask the seller –The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection requires disclosure to buyers when a product is not covered by a valid U.S. warranty or ineligible for manufacturers’ rebates.
Carefully inspect the merchandise – Make sure the item is in working order. Gray market goods may be defective, counterfeit or not be factory-fresh, having gone through the hands of several third parties.
Inquire about repairs – Not only is gray market merchandise not protected by a warranty, it is also not eligible for repair at a manufacturer’s authorized service center. Ask the seller where the service can be done and whether repairs will be performed according to the manufacturer’s specifications. If repairs are needed, the cost may exceed any savings on the purchase price.
Use a credit card – A credit card allows you to dispute charges for the purchase of faulty gray market merchandise and any other items misrepresented at the time of sale.
This does not mean you should mistrust everything sold at low prices on the internet, however, you can avoid problems by taking the necessary steps so that you or a gift recipient don’t have any problems.
Founded in 1928, Connecticut BBB is an unbiased non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. BBB helps consumers find and recommend businesses, brands and charities they can trust, offers objective advice and a wide range of education on topics affecting marketplace trust.
BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses. Today, 113 BBBs serve communities across the United States, Canada and Mexico, evaluating and monitoring more than 4.7 million local and national businesses and charities.
For more advice on finding companies and businesses, start your search with trust at www.bbb.org/connecticut.