The Changing Face of Photo Specialty
Ritz Keeps Spinning a Bigger Presence on the Web
by Frank Baillargeon
On April 8, Ritz Interactive broke the news that it had acquired one of its online competitors, PhotoAlley.com. A week later, Ritz Interactive upped the ante further by launching Ritzelectronics.com, an online "superstore." Following the acquisition of Wolfcamera.com last fall, one has to stop and take a look at Ritz' online portfolio and assess its implications. The photo-related sites appearing under the Ritz Interactive banner now include RitzCamera.com, RitzPIX.com, Wolfcamera.com, Photography.com, RitzElectronics.com, and PhotoAlley.com. With 1,350 retail stores throughout the United States the Ritz "share of voice" in the photo marketplace continues to expand.
In the absence of a national photo specialty competitor of any significance to Ritz, one could easily draw up a list of concerns from these recent development. Among those might be:
- Purchasing power that severely impairs local or regional photo specialty's ability to compete (particularly on hardware).
- "Share of voice" that drowns local or regional marketing efforts.
- A lack of innovation that commonly accompanies market dominance.
On the other hand, one could also applaud the vibrancy and forward thrust of both Ritz Camera and Ritz Interactive, particularly if one believes that photo specialty is a critical channel—one absolutely necessary to deliver the transforming power of digital imaging in such meaningful ways that our industry assumes a more vibrant role in the daily life of families and enterprise. As one who regularly bemoans the lack of broadly-distributed photo specialty alternatives, I find the "devil's advocate" hat a bit uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I'll assume that role and offer the following thoughts:
- Consumer Electronics and Photo Specialty "channel blurring" is a bi-product of consumer migration from conventional camera purchases to digital camera purchases. Encouraged by success in digital imaging hardware and software sales, all the major CE retailers are rushing to deliver imaging service solutions in order to capture a share of the profitable printing business. What success they realize is likely to be at the expense of photo specialty. A "devil's advocate" can argue that the industry is better served, in the long run, by a channel whose business is photography than by a channel that seeks to develop an imaging department. In that context it's encouraging to see the arrival of RitzElectronics.com. It's refreshing to think that consumers can now visit a photo website to buy electronics rather than visit a CE website to buy photo products and services.
- The Internet continues to play a growing role in commerce. In all likelihood its role in photography will be a critical component driving awareness, education, sharing, distribution alternatives, image storing, product evaluation and purchase decisions. It will be imperative for the photo specialty community to enable consumers to access and embrace an expanded world of photographic applications that enrich the personal photographic experience.
That has not been lost on Fred Lerner and his team at Ritz Interactive. One-click access to PhotoAlley.com and Photography.com provide entry into rich photographic experiences that promote that enrichment. While enterprise exists because of sale and profit, the health of that enterprise, particularly one that is largely discretionary, and that has not kept pace with overall consumer spending growth, demands that the photo specialty channel evangelizes the unique and compelling value of the photographic experience. The Internet provides a clear and compelling opportunity since it is, first and foremost, a visual experience that celebrates imaging on virtually every "page."
The photo industry is under transformation in every sense. If you put digital Imaging aside, the industry has clearly been transforming for many years. The advent of on-site processing and its proliferation to mass discount channels (particularly discount, club and drug) has resulted in a steady shift of consumer purchase behavior to those channels. Even within those channels the shift continues to those who have established the infrastructures to independently support a robust photofinishing enterprise (specifically Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Costco). This shift has delivered savings to the consumer and convenience-not insignificant boosts to consumer activity.
Digital image capture and a slowed economy have resulted in a reduction of rolls of film and retail photofinishing. Hardest hit is photo specialty. Reduced minilab costs and a new generation of low-cost ink-jet minilabs promises a deeper penetration of on-site photofinishing services in both traditional photo and new channels. More outlets will be chasing potentially fewer rolls of film.
Yet there is a very bright side. Both the popularity of digital cameras and new digital workflow assets has created a world of possibilities for all photographers that never before existed. The power of digitized images in the consumer's hand is multiplied by the imaging industry's ability to deliver an unbounded world of product and service possibilities, and to create environments that enable and inspire creative interaction with images. To this "devil's advocate" it seems that those "possible environments" and "possible services" are better created and delivered in a photo specialty environment than in any other channel.
As we went to press, PTN learned that Ritz Interactive has
aquired e-tailer CameraWorld.com. Ritz Camera Centers is also
reportedly purchasing the assets of the Portland, OR-based Camera