Magazine Article


Jenny on the (Megapixel) Block
Women are still out in full force, snatching up digicams and creating collages at picture stations—now it's up to you to capitalize on it


It all started with a blown-out booth at last year's PMA convention.

The Complete Picture, a cutting-edge concept designed to appeal to the burgeoning women's market, featured five inspiration centers that focused on how "Jennifer" (the personification bestowed upon these female consumers) interacts with images, and how retailers could capitalize on these trends. The 2007 incarnation of The Complete Picture expanded upon its 2006 debut by including highlights such as: My Place (where Jennifer could enjoy a cup of coffee at a kiosk); Share & Tell, a mix of wireless products that enabled Jennifer to share her personal memories; My Family Story, devoted to maintaining generational legacies through custom framing, scanning, archiving, and wide-format printing; and Do More, Express More, which used software and applications to customize Jennifer's photos. Retailers also shared stories on how they've successfully integrated lifestyle marketing to attract these Gen-X moms.

"The primary thing we've learned is the broad validity of our research on Jennifer in the U.S.," says Glenn Omura, industry analyst for PMA and marketing professor at The Broad School of Management, Michigan State University. "Black's in Canada has done their own research on Canadian women, and their profile of lifestyle and photo/imaging attitudes and buying behavior correlates perfectly with our work. We've talked to store owners in Brazil, Sweden, and Mexico, who have qualitatively confirmed our research."

So what's changed over the past few months (Jan. '07 issue) since PTN last brought you an in-depth look at this demographic? What are women looking for when they walk through your doors, whether it's to pick up a new digital camera or use one of your kiosks to work on their images? And is the photo retail industry paying attention?

Straight to the Source

"Maybe for the first time, some people are finally starting to listen," says industry consultant Bill McCurry of McCurry Associates. "We sucked the passion out of the industry. Toward the very end of the 2006 PMA convention, someone asked me, ‘How can you take an industry designed around emotion, and yet we get together every year to figure out how to suck the passion out of it?' That really struck me. You go to that show and there's no one using the ‘fun' word or the ‘enjoyment' word or the ‘treasure' word when we talk about what we deliver. [Our industry leaders are] focused on production—on what they can make, not how the customer uses it. We left the people out there, but now, finally, some are starting to pick up on it."

Manufacturers are starting to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to paying particular attention to the women's market. One such case study is that of General Imaging, a new company based in Torrance, CA, and exclusive worldwide licensee for the GE brand of digital cameras.

"Although we're planning to reach out to all segments of the camera consumer market, we consider women a key demographic because women make most buying decisions, and they also tend to be the ‘keepers of the memories,'" says Cary Willis, a representative for New West Agency, which coordinates PR efforts for General Imaging. "They're also less intimidated by technology than they once were, and more willing than before to spend time in both big-box stores and camera specialty stores, as well as research the web and other resources."

Before embarking on its venture to sell digicams, GE did its homework, commissioning research to feel out the marketplace. In an independent national survey of 712 respondents (ages 25–65, household income $40K and over), both women and men indicated they would be "somewhat to very interested" in buying a GE Digital Still Camera (DSC) (76%). However, that jumped to 82% for women, and 85% for mothers with kids under age 18. "Women traditionally have shown great brand loyalty, and GE—famous for household appliances, which were once considered the woman's domain—is a trusted name that resonates with women," he says.

When General Imaging commissioned focus groups to further explore general trends in women's purchasing patterns, they found:

  • Women are more tech-savvy than before. They know terms such as "megapixel," and see 7-megapixels as representing a serious entry into the market.
  • Many women already own a DSC.
  • Women tend to research the web and other sources before making a purchase.
  • Women want small cameras; value styling in addition to function and price; and like that General Imaging offers colors beyond the usual black or silver, even if they don't personally want one.

A Nationwide Chat With Jen

So what else has been going on with Jennifer? McCurry kept an open mind when he traveled cross-country to interview Jennifers on their imaging experiences. While McCurry was specifically retained by HP to garner public opinion on the HP Photosmart Studio, what he found during his friendly conversations with America's Jennifers offers support not only for that specific equipment—their answers also lend insight into what women are really looking for in their whole retail experience (see for the full report).

Ease of use and the speed of your imaging equipment will keep women coming back for more. Portia Bonavitacola, a customer McCurry interviewed in The Camera Shop in Bryn Mawr, PA, explained how important it is to her to have a service that frees up her schedule. "I'm not at all technically savvy, but…I was able to walk myself through the whole process and do a gamut of posters, CDs, scrapbooks, cards, and a calendar," she told McCurry. "I do homemade scrapbook albums, and they're very time-intensive; but with this I can select 80 pictures and do a chronological album for the year very quickly—[it would] take me weeks to do at home at night. Time is my biggest issue with two young children. My free time at night comes at 9 or 10pm, and I'm usually too tired [to do anything then]!"

Beth Triester, another Camera Shop customer and one of McCurry's subjects, raved about the instant gratification and quality control you just can't get online. "You see what you're doing right here and can go back and change it," she explained to McCurry. "If it's online, it comes in the mail and you don't know what you're going to end up with. [This is] better quality than what you can do at home."

What McCurry discovered during his travels offers a sneak peek into what women are looking for when they shop at retail—and underscore the importance of really paying attention to their wants and needs. "Extreme profits can be made when you solve customer problems. Listen to these women carefully [and profit]," he says.

Retailers, Take Heed

"The immediate future requires a focus on services rather than merchandise," says PMA's Omura. "Cameras and 4x6 prints will remain the core products and generate traffic, and camera accessories, photo albums, mugs, DVDs, and such generate margins, but these do not differentiate stores. Differentiation derives from services and the quality of service delivery. Services can include portrait photography, event and sports photography, pet photography, personal journal books, and photo albums with textualization."

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