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e-Tailing Are You Ready for the Next Revolution?



e-Tailing

Are You Ready for the
Next Revolution?

Mitch Goldstone

Over a decade ago, something new happened. I experienced the very first online photo processing success story. It occurred in San Francisco, where Kodak’s then-chairman, George Fisher, hosted a forum to showcase how this new technology was going to transmit a picture from California to New York using regular telephone wires. The audience was unfamiliar with his vision and uncertain of what type of market potential it would bare. Much has changed, and unquestionably at lightning-fast speed. It took more than a decade to achieve customer acceptance, retailer buy-in and technology catch-up, but it is here and meets the "ten-times-better" rule. When you have a product that is ten-times better than its predecessor, the odds of a planetary-sized success can be achieved.

Today, we are at the beginning of a revolution. This is a renaissance, where new technologies are causing a return of the entrepreneur and sparking what is becoming the hottest new trend. With many output options available, online solutions with same-day service are enabling emerging companies to compete with the largest firms and at the same level. But because this business remains an art versus a science, the retail channel will always have an edge in quality and service.

PMA reported that in 2002, 84% of images printed from digital cameras were made at home. Now that number has plunged nearly 25% in just one year to just 68%. Prints ordered online, at retail and from digital self-service kiosks were just 14% of the total in 2002. In 2003, it rocketed to almost 30%. The shift towards retail printing and using online photo services for same day pickup at retail and mail fulfillment is expected to rise as digital cameras move further into the mass adoption phase. People are understanding and valuing the convenience of having prints made in a retail environment and online from digital files. They are saving money and time and are smiling at the expense of at-home printing, where the true monetary and emotional costs weigh heavily on their decision to print at retail and online.

Going Online
Many of the early adaptors are becoming transfixed from the success of offering online photo services. Consumers are returning to the photo specialty retailer again because they can best differentiate and specialize. Online orders today are so easy and fast that customers press "send," get in their car and see the order completed by the time they arrive at the retailer. The race is always on to complete the orders within minutes, and that includes all the special customer requests like: glossy or matte finish, custom back printing, sepia or black-and-white prints, fixing sloppy borders, year-round photo greeting cards, photo invitation and special announcement photo cards, and a host of special requests that further differentiates our photo channel.

There is no reason why all orders shouldn’t be completed the very same day and fulfilled for pickup or packaged for mailing. Companies like Graphx’s Photogize and its export feature enable seamless fulfillment with postage companies like Stamps.com and overnight FedEx service. By using the U.S. Post Office Priority Mail service, you can use their boxes to best protect the images and save on packaging costs, too.

When digital imaging first became a mass market solution, my customers typically ordered only a few of their favorite photos. With today’s market encompassing more women and non-techies who want to follow George Eastman’s design that "you press the button, Kodak does the rest," I have more people today ordering upwards of 300 to 500 images online from their files—that’s the equivalent of more than 20 rolls of 24 exposures of traditional film. In 2002, only about 4% of my business was digital-related; in 2003 it was more than 86 percent.

Today, everyone is a winner. The manufacturers sell paper, chemistry and digital equipment; retailers have renewed revenue opportunities, and most importantly, the consumer triumphs, too. They get pre-edited, picture-perfect photographs, not marginal inkjet copies that cost so much in time, hardware, ink cartridge investments, endless frustration and disappointment.

Operators of any online photo service should be connected with their customer base. Use an e-mail data management service to easily control your messages. Make sure it has an "opt-out" feature and tracking mechanism for managing every communications message you send. Use your e-mail database and send educational and promotional items.

Even your confirmation messages should have a selling message, such as to also order year-round photo greeting cards for sharing special announcements like graduations, births and new homes. This technology enables your firm to have instant and precise customer replies any time of the day or night. Make sure when you win over a customer that they are rewarded. E-mail is an ideal communicator and often leads to your customers helping to promote your service. When you win over an employee at a large company, their single action of recommending you through the Internet can open up an entirely new national customer base. When orders are received, we immediately send a confirmation message and sales pitch to try some of the online business channels they didn’t already use.

Make sure to differentiate and specialize your online marketing efforts. While others may just use traditional percentage-off promotions to create excitement, you should get involved with creative solutions, such as getting involved with your community. Stand for something. Become an activist and breathe excitement into important causes. Without this passion, it is difficult to become a cheerleader to sell your services. When you link up with a leading manufacturer and become a team, the results are much more powerful than going it alone.

Make sure your online service is easy to use. There is no reason to have a sign-up, registration or barrier to simply ordering photos. Within seconds of entering the site my customers can choose "Select All" and their order is complete. It’s that simple and seamless.

Unique Services
The journey begins when customers learn about your unique service. Then an order is placed. Once it arrives at the lab and the credit card is confirmed, the order is printed. A very significant value proposition are all the custom services that the photo specialty retailer can offer, such as matte, finish and custom borders. Use custom POS materials as inserts to promote ancillary services and custom packaging. Because my firm also does contract fulfillment—where another company does the marketing and we do the fulfillment—we have all the unique packaging materials added to each specific order. The customer never knows that all the processing for different businesses were actually performed from the same location. An added benefit is that the companies that contract with us limit their exposure, don’t need the costly infrastructure investment and benefit from our 15 years of industry leadership.

Photogize, for example, has a terrific warning system: When the image resolution is too low, the customer is advised not to make that print. The Print Wizard feature enables customers to crop and adjust their images. They complete the entire transaction and then send the orders in minutes. Based on the file sizes and upload connectivity, it can take some time to transmit the order, but customers can walk away or minimize the screen. Once the order is completed, they receive an e-mail notification that the order was received, and moments later that it was printed and ready for pickup or in the mail, as well as all types of promotional messages for incremental sales enhancements.

Take advantage of the promotional code features for providing contributions to charities and organizations. Silent auctions appreciate the online gift certificates for ordering photos from digital cameras.

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