With the shift from viewing photos in the computer room to the living room, companies such as Sony and Panasonic see photography being used for a whole new experience.
Sony's Okada says, "Imagine more retailers utilizing television displays as instore promotional tools to display beautiful photography, which would then ultimately encourage customers to either upgrade their cameras for better performance or even make prints. When customers see how beautiful an image is on a 40inch or larger HDTV set, they will be encouraged to buy bigger prints. This can drive customers to their business to print more."
Shifting from Product Sellers to Service Providers
"The photo imaging industry is experiencing an incredible shift," says Ted Fox, PMAI's Executive Director. "Traditional prints, whether 4x6, 5x7, or 8x10, are no longer the main source of profits. Consumer preferences have shifted to creative application of images onto and into various substrates."
Fox goes on to say, "Photo specialty dealers need to shift their focus away from simply "products" to "services" requiring crafted job shop skills—as opposed to mass production like the printing of 4x6s. This is the best way that the specialty retailers can differentiate themselves to compete with the highvolume chainstore retailers."
This is a recurring theme among the lab owners and retailers that PTN speaks with on a regular basis.
The Value of the Specialist
"I see a bright future for the photo industry if we continue to offer real value to the user and avoid commoditization," says John D. Lang, President and CEO, Epson America, Inc. "Both professional and amateur photographers now have access to unbelievable capability at affordable prices, whether relying on their own digital expertise and tools or outsourcing the job to service providers who have the latest digital printing technology."
"Professional photographers need to display their images in the best way possible. The entire photo industry will benefit by making it easy and practical for them. Even as the pro customer base grows in knowledge and uses its own equipment, photographers still send out specific jobs and take advantage of valueadded lab services.
"Ask a pro about the photo dealer he frequents when he needs equipment or supplies, minor camera service, or a very large print, and you'll hear about an ongoing, sometimes even passionate relationship. Dealers continue to carry an increasing array of digital products that the pros look for to get the job done. Some also offer the expertise to help pro photographers get the best results, such as service/support or color managed workflow seminars."
"Consumers are easily convinced to purchase new digital cameras by outlining the new technologies and features. As the technology is new, their current camera will not have a similar function. Specialty retailers can do this better than any other channel because they are considered experts in the digital camera business," Casio's Heuer says.
"Photo specialty dealers can attract new and existing consumers with classes, events, and outings. Building community helps build stronger trust and loyalty. In the past year, more than 1in5 photo specialty customers stated they bought a particular brand of camera because of a sales consultant's advice; that number is less than 1in10 for all retail outlets," says NPD Group's Cutting. She continues: "Customer satisfaction scores truly reveal that specialty dealers stand head and shoulders over competitive channels on knowledge, customer treatment, and even price."
Monetizing all of the digital images people are taking is the next hurdle—and opportunity. The PRO Group's Worswick: "I dare say there is no digital camera owner left in America that does not know they can print pictures. Our opportunity is to show them ways to copy, print, preserve, display and share more images. This can be everything from traditional prints to images on a pillow. It may even be loading 100 photos onto a digital frame. Perhaps it is the sale of an accessory to display pictures on an HDTV. There is great promise ahead."
However he adds, "The opportunity will require more effort than one hour developing."
"The convergence of photos, music, movies, TV, telephones, GPS, and more, all into digital appliances mean that there will be more and more cross over product opportunities. There will be plenty of consumer confusion. The retailer who figures out how to profit from educating the confused customer will prosper," Worswick continues.
Gary Shapiro, CEO of the CEA, suggests, "You can serve as a resource to help consumers understand the many options available to them. As consumers move along the digital imaging upgrade path, you will be better positioned to capture their sales."
Understanding Your Customers
Today's retailers and lab owners need to take the time to talk to their customers—and listen to them. Those who truly have an understanding of how their customers use photography will be better positioned to assist their customers with their imaging needs, and be profitable at the same time.