Best & Worst Places to Buy Surveillance

By John Honovich, Published Dec 17, 2014, 12:00am EST

Stores, distributors, manufacturers, the Internet, Chinese spam emails?

Today, there are more options to buy surveillance than ever.

But what are the best and worst places to buy?

IPVM surveyed 100 integrators to learn from their experiences and tabulate the consensus top and bottom picks.

Summary

We found a number of clear trends:

  • Integrators like buying from manufacturers more than distributors.
  • While integrators named dozens of different sources, the distributors that were mentioned the most (across best and worst votes) were ADI, Anixter, ScanSource and Tri-Ed. However, the percentage of best vs worst votes for these 4 varied significantly.
  • Online buying remained a distinct minority choice for integrators.
  • Many integrators choose manufacturers, in general, as their preferred choice: 

    • "Directly from the manufacturer"
    • "Manufactures when possible. You generally get good pricing and the knowledge base is best."
    • "We buy direct from factory. It's the only place with the deepness of technical support required."
    • "I have always found that purchasing direct from the manufacturer if possible is preferred. I find local distributers have little loyalty to integrators and often sell direct to the end user."
    • " Directly from the manufacturer. It's cheaper, faster, and they have better support (pre-sale and after-sale). Distributors open the market for more competitors, lower margins (they have to make money as well), mixed up RMA's"
    • "Buying direct from the manufacturer is the best. You received the right answers about the product, you get quick responses and clear direction on the supply of product."
    • "Direct from manufacturer - the reason is twofold the lack of product knowledge at the distributor level and the lack of inventory systems are larger (more cameras)than in the past and they represent too many manufacturers to adequately stock all- thereby reducing their importance as a supplier"
    • "Direct for major lines, less mark-up and better direct relationship."

    Indeed, manufacturers had the highest plus to minus ratio of any choice overall.

    The above does not included the 4 integrators who explicitly called out Avigilon as the best place for them to buy surveillance products. However, it is certainly worth noting, as it reinforces an advantage that Avigilon has over almost all their top rivals who sell through distribution.

    Frustration With Distributors

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    On the flip side, many integrators choose distributors, in general, as the worst place to buy surveillance products.

    • "Most distributors. lack of knowledge. no engineering. just want model numbers"
    • "Through distribution. Usually because of a higher price, lack of inventory and employees who are unfamiliar with the products."
    • "Distribution is the worst place to buy surveillance products in our experience. Loyalties and compensation overrides product appropriateness."
    • "You have to wait a while for tech support when going through them. They have a tendency to talk to you competition if the other company does more business or are just good friends."
    • "Unfortunately security distributers are little more than order takers. In most cases I cannot get advise or help on products or solutions and have to rely on my experience and research when making purchasing decisions."
    • "Distribution, they are all about everything and no nothing about anything. These folks exist strictly to allow manufacturers to sell quantities rather than add any real value. They channel product into small business that are not committed and sell direct to end users because they are all about the sale not the integration and support."

    On the other hand, no integrator choose distributors generally as the best place to buy products.

    Geographical Note - Americas

    For distributor selection, since ~70% of responses were from North America (Canada and the US), whether non American distributors are good or bad, this will not show in our results based on the mix of respondents.

    Scansource

    Of distributors, ScanSource had the best plus/minus ratio with 11 integrators choosing them as the best and only 1 as the worst. Shipping and supporting were the 2 most common positive traits cited:

    • "Fair price, free 2ND day shipping"
    • "Scan Source - Fast, friendly and they stock lots of product."
    • "ScanSource is head & shoulder above everyone for procuring Security materials. They have the best online web portal pricing & product availability. It is an extremely intuitive GUI. They also have Product specialists for each Manufacturer that are very helpful if needed. They have huge Inventory as well."
    • "Scansource - their products arrive promptly. Customer service is great."
    • "ScanSource. They are extremely helpful and quick to respond. They also offer us the most competitive pricing."
    • "ScanSource - Great service, competitive pricing and they DO NOT ever sell direct to any end users!"

    That noted, clearly ScanSource is not as broadly used as ADI and Anixter. 

    ADI

    ADI did well. It has 22 integrator best selections, though with 10 worst offsetting that.

    On the positive side, many integrators cited strong service from ADI branches:

    • "ADI has worked well for me, but I already have the product knowledge. I just order from them."
    • "ADI. Their website was dramatically improved this past year, and made our jobs a lot easier."
    • "ADI - they inventory the gear we need. They have been good to work with terms etc."
    • "ADI... I have a great relationship with my salesman...taken him fishing and buy his lunch every now and then"
    • "ADI is the best place. They make no assumptions and don't try to steal your business. They ship what you order in a timely manner and tell you up front what the ETA of each item will be and are typically correct in those predictions."
    • "ADI- good customer service, great warranty depots (just drop off) and access to ADI technical resources, that are non-bias (from contacting manufacturers directly)."
    • "Lots of stock for most items and one extremely knowledgeable sales guy"
    • "ADI. Very accessible Local branch. Face to face if needed easily. Aggressive pricing. No questions asked on returns / bad out box issues / Most needs met."
    • "ADI. They try to price match. If the local branch does not have something in stock, they can get it from another branch and I wouldn't have to pay for shipping."
    • "The Vancouver branch has one amazing Sales Rep who has been there forever and knows everything. Plus they generally have stock or can get it from another branch fairly quickly."

    On the other hand, the most common complaint was poor service at specific branches:

    • "ADI -- Poor service at our local branch. Price is sometimes secondary to customer service!"
    • "This is because the counter people are unfriendly not helpful. It could possibly be my local branch but it seems like they could care less who you are. Also their prices are all over the map. You can speak to 2 different people and get different prices all the time."
    • "ADI consistently offers poor service which, broken down, is their lack of experienced staff, their freight policy, and the difficulty of speaking to someone directly without having to leave a voicemail."
    • "I tried to buy from them for a small project. The hoops and hurdles trying to get a cash account setup is just ridiculous these days. It took the better part of a week waiting for the account approval and get a rep assigned. Once you get a rep, you then find out just how awful their pricing is as a new client."

    That noted, overall, clearly integrator's surveyed have positive experiences with ADI.

    Anixter

    Anixter [link no longer available] had the worst plus / minus ratio of the distributors, with 17 worst selections topping their 12 best selection.

    Some integrators had positive experiences with them:

    • "Anixter has been a great source for our IP camera equipment. They have a great sales team that is consistently following up on our projects."
    • "Anixter. They understand IP and also foster relationships to help us expand our business."
    • "Although just about any supplier can get the products we need, Anixter has worked with us to set up project accounts to help with managing finances."
    • "They are quick on a quote turn around and have given us custom formatted quotes when we need them."
    • "I have a specific account executive that goes the extra for me in getting the info and products when I need them."
    • "Anixter. We have changed inside sales people several times until we secured an experienced "security" person."
    • "Since Anixter's losses in the security market last quarter, they've been very eager for our business and give us very competitive pricing. They also have better stock and faster shipping times than the other guys we deal with."

    But more had problems, primarily with lack of knowledge and changing reps:

    • "Anixter. They have no idea what are they selling and sales reps constantly change."
    • "Anixter, unexperienced reps that change too often"
    • "Anixter - Because they are Box movers. It is our responsibility to provide correct model numbers. Only then they will provide the price. Also after sales experience also not good as there are no hard core technical engineers."
    • "The worst of the ones I deals with would be Anixter as they don't specialize in security as they are more of an electrical distributor. They are true order takers. Recently I asked my account representative for options for an integrated platform platform consisting of CCTV, access control and intrusion. They had no idea what I was talking about."
    • "Anixter hands down. You can NEVER get someone on the phone, plus they split their crew into various departments. Each department knows NOTHING about the other. For example, the guy selling you cameras can't sell you wire. Slow clap, Anixter. They've also double charged us for orders by accident."
    • "Anixter - Bad customer server, bad online ordering, conflict of interest"
    • "Anixter. They only hire idiots and their departments are segmented so nobody can help you with everything"
    • "When quoting equipment, they are not upfront with shipping charges and equipment costs end up higher than competitors after shipping costs are factored."
    • "Anixter. Lack of follow up - no real local store type setup - very quick to sell boxes and move along. Parts dribble in etc."

    The other factor that hurt Anixter was their underhanded tactic of selling direct, which a number of integrators called out explicitly:

    • "Anixter - They have tried to go direct to a few of our endusers. We wont work with them again."
    • "Anixter, poor customer service and they also try to sell direct to the customers- YUCK!"
    • "Anixter, they'll sell to the end user if you aren't looking."
    • "Anixter - Sells direct to the end users!"

    Of course, Anixter's big move in 2014 was to buy out Tri-Ed, giving Anixter a local branch presence like ADI.

    Tri-Ed

    Tri-Ed did not receive many selections either way (12 total) and those that were, were split.

    Some had positive experiences with their contacts:

    • "We have been purchasing through Tried because the counter people are eager to help and friendly. Also their prices are very competitive."
    • "Tri-ed consistently gives our company excellent service and top-notch support. Their technical support is 2nd to none in our area. They'll go out of their way to get our company the answers we need."
    • "Tri-Ed. Price and Service. I try to deal with one person, view them as an extension of my business, and endeavor to maintain a close working and personal relationship with the staff at the local branch which includes sharing my expertise with them."
    • "Tri-ed - They are extremely responsive and they know what they are selling."
    • "My rep is very helpful and knowledgeable about the field. He'll tell me if something is junk and stay away from it and I can call him him for recommendations on products using application examples and he'll know what I'm talking about. There website is very basic hard to search but if you know the part number of the item it gives you pricing right away without waiting. My only my complaints are with returns. Its almost impossible to return something to them."

    Others had negative ones:

    • "We have found Tri-Ed to be a nightmare. They just don't know anything. Curious to see how the Anixter tie in will work out."
    • "Tri-ed, the local staff is not knowable of the products I need"
    • "Tri-Ed. On large projects for government entities they will hold accounts until payments are made. Creates difficulty when projects are phased and it takes the owner a long time to make payment due to meetings/check schedules."
    • "Tri-Ed in Mississauga (Toronto), Ontario have messed up a large numbers of orders! A friend of mine, who is also in the security integration business has had the same experience. Their phone service has certainly become worse over the past year as well with long hold times."

    Either way, the more interesting and important aspect will be how ADI is integrated into Anixter over the next few years.

    Online

    A few integrators cited positive experiences buying online (including 2 from Amazon) and a few cited negative experiences. While many integrators surely sometimes buy online, it is clear that online buying for them is neither the best nor worst approach to buying surveillance.

    Of course, it is the sheer presence of surveillance products for sale online that creates significant price pressure as end users see that and use it to counter integrator quotes (e.g., Should Quotes Include Line Item Price Breakdowns?).

    China

    Finally, buying direct from China has become a more common option as sites like Alibabba / Aliexpress (e.g., 161,000 results for IP cameras) have become more prominent and as no-name Chinese manufacturers spam bomb integrators.

    Certainly, quite a number of integrators do buy direct from China, but the integrators responding had a number of negative experiences and warnings:

    • "Chinese manufacturers direct Any analog product works about fine, but IP cameras are unpredictable, the rate of failure is way too high"
    •  "Buying direct from an unknown chinese manufacturer. I didn't do this, but one of my customers did and the result was a nightmare for them. They ended up attempting to return it and purchasing the system I designed for them in the first place."
    • "from a Chinese agent sent money no product" 
    • "Alibaba from China. I always test 1 camera from suppliers before buying more as you get very bad products a lot of times."
    • "#1 - Cheap, Chinese resellers / no name brands. These may be bottom line, but there is NO quality and NO warranty to speak of."

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