Gray Market Rises Again

As I’ve written previously, I believe Nikon dumped a fair amount of product into the gray market waters last quarter (and maybe even this quarter). This means that the presence of gray market products has returned with a vengeance. Most notably the D810 deal that Nikon Rumors promoted that was basically a US$1000 discount (30%) off the regular price (note that this item has now reverted to the full list price, even though it is still gray market).

When things pop up into near viral form like this, I get a lot of emails. They basically say “should I buy gray market?”

Short answer: no.

Even more problematic is that when quantities of gray market products get pushed here in the US, it causes downstream problems for all of us: you need to be very careful when buying on the used market. Why?

Long answer: NikonUSA (and most other Nikon subsidiaries where it’s legal) will not repair gray market merchandise. They don’t honor the warranty, and they won’t repair the product (at any cost). Given the recent restrictions on parts sales to independent repair shops, that means that sometimes even simple problems—a broken battery chamber door—often can’t be fixed. Big problems such as a failed image sensor can’t be fixed at all.

I first wrote about Nikon’s gray market practices over 15 years ago on this site. My stance is still the same: Nikon needs to fix this, and it’s entirely fixable within Nikon’s own control. Nikon knows where these gray market products are coming from, mostly because Nikon is the one creating them in the first place. While Nikon’s practices save them money—no warranty repairs ever on these products, for example—it also is a black mark on their brand reputation. Someone who isn’t in the know that gets one of these products, either new or used, and then needs repairs discovers that Nikon actively disclaims some of its own products. Ding goes the brand credibility.

I generally don’t recommend buying Nikon products that are gray market. They’re just too risky in the digital era. Even with a 30% discount.

Action list for anyone buying new or used Nikon cameras or lenses:

  • Check the retailer out on www.resellerratings.com. Extremely low ratings aren’t good and often a sign of gray market and potential problems. Be sure to check the customer comments for things like returns and repairs. Often the rating is low because…you guessed it…the retailer is selling gray market and can’t really repair it when something goes wrong.
  • Check serial numbers as best you can. This has gotten problematic recently with Nikon’s shift away from restrictive territory serial numbers, but those are still good clues, especially with lenses in the US, where the serial number is usually stamped with US in front of the number.
  • Ask for papers.Lenses are easy: in the US an official import lens comes with the NikonUSA 4-year warranty extension offer and a clear NikonUSA warranty card. Cameras are tougher, as NikonUSA has gone back and forth on whether warranty cards are actually provided or not. However, all of the recent DSLRs I’ve gotten have had NikonUSA warranty cards again. Just be aware that if you’re buying an older generation Nikon DSLR from a dealer it might not have such a card.


Likewise, you should keep all warranty papers that came with your camera and a copy of your original receipt. These come in handy when you try to sell your stuff on the used market. Savvy Nikon users know that official imports are worth more on the used market than are gray market products.

Thom Hogan 2014 / All Rights Reserved bythom.com @bythom #bythom