By Claire Reilly

Following news last week that JB Hi-Fi has begun the direct importing of DSLR cameras and accessories at prices significantly below those found in its other channels, the CEO of JB Terry Smart has come out in defence of the move.

Speaking exclusively to Current.com.au, Smart said the decision was necessary in the current retail climate.

“We needed to do this to protect the JB Brand,” said Smart. “Our customers are very internet savvy, so they know what’s available from other retailers and they know the pricing. But they’re not understanding how these other retailers are achieving it.

“It’s important, in my mind, for us to be able to educate these people and say, ‘If you want to do it, then do it with a brand you can trust’. But this is what you are doing – you are importing direct from China, you are bypassing GST and you are forgoing the local distributor’s warranty.

Smart said that some other online retailers were “not being genuine” with consumers, offering grey market products without disclosing the reasons for the lower prices. As a result, consumers gained the impression they were “buying locally supplied and distributed products, which is not the case.

“What that is doing is undermining the local retailers and the local distributors.”

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However, while JB recognises the importance of locally-supplied product to the Australian economy (according to a Q&A-style info page on its website), it is also engaging in the direct import model that supposedly ‘undermines’ these local supply chains. For Smart, this is necessary if the retail chain is to remain competitive.

“It is important to educate the customers who do that [direct importing]. And to educate the customers, unfortunately it means we have to participate in that.

“What we’re really doing is empowering the customers to make an informed price comparison, and then let them decide what is important to them,” he added. “So if price is it for them, and they’re happy to forgo the local distributor’s warranties and rely on the retailer to support the product, bypassing GST, then that’s fine, that’s their choice.

“We’re not telling them what is right or wrong.”

Smart was quick to reiterate that, unlike some other direct import channels, JB will cover product warranties, though camera products would need to be returned to JB stores before being shipped back to the origin for repairs.

While the direct import model is currently only available on selected products in JB Hi-Fi’s DSLR range, Smart would not be drawn on whether this would be expanded to other product categories in the future, if the competitive retail climate demanded it. “We would decide at that time whether strategically it was important to do it,” he said.