Modern technology lets photo retailers compete with the big players
The online photo business has change a lot over the past few years. Mobile-enabled responsive sites are now a requirement, not a luxury. Modern UI and backend reliability can make the difference between getting an order and losing out to a competitor. Features that were once just “nice to have,” like top-level security (HTTPs), are now required.
Easy and responsive UI, security and stability are among the reasons why independent photo retailers are turning to Photo Finale (PF) Enterprise from Photo Finale as their website solution. PF Enterprise gives dealers full control over their website and dealers are taking advantage of all benefits this affords.
Many PF Enterprise sites incorporate sophisticated tracking tools, affiliate programs, newsletter signups, popups, banners, product shopping tools, on-screen user guidance, live chat help and more. Beyond all the web-based goodies, however, dealers cite sound business reasons to embrace PF Enterprise.
We talked with two independent photo retailers, both longtime Photo Finale customers, about the business case for upgrading to PF Enterprise. In today’s fast-moving economy, sitting still is a prescription for failure, and a poorly-designed website can be the sign of a sick business.
Joel Miller, Avon MotoPhoto
Joel Miller has been a Photo Finale customer since he bought Avon MotoPhoto, Avon, CT, in 2002. At the beginning, there was one kiosk and the lab was processing hundreds of 35mm rolls a day. Not anymore.
“I thought I was buying a photo lab that had a small portrait studio,” says Miller. “Today, we don’t process any film in-house anymore and most of the images we print come from a phone. We’ve evolved, as everyone has had to. We have a booming portrait- and event-photography business. We are still a pretty busy lab, though, serving the local customer.”
Despite being on the Photo Finale platform, Avon MotoPhoto was not doing the online photo business of other retailers. Miller knew his standard Photo Finale site had the same back-end technology as other, more-successful Photo Finale retailers.
“We were using the same technology, and it really bothered me they were doing so much more in sales volume,” he explains. “Like everyone, we put out quality products and have great service; but I kept thinking, if they are using the same technology, what are we missing?”
The difference was Photo Finale Enterprise.
“Our front end was clunky and antiquated,” admits Miller. “When looking at the successful online retailers who were using Photo Finale, the difference was the front-end imagery, rather than just the backend. For example, instead of clicking on ‘order a photobook,’ and taking the user to some text and few small icons, while their sites described the photobook, showed the binding and all the options. Everything the customer wants to see and needs to see to make a decision.”
Miller says the big change, from a product presentation standpoint, was the Avon MotoPhoto site went from a simple catalog approach to more visual merchandising, with large lifestyle graphics.
“PF Enterprise imagery allows you to sell with your images without saying anything,” he says. “Instead of pictures of the five different photo books you can order, the Photo Finale Enterprise site allows us to have an image of a family gathered around, trying to get a glimpse of the book. In your mind, you’re imagining the trip they went on and what they are remembering. That picture is going to sell the idea of a photo book so much more than whether they want a blue or black cover. We weren’t starting with the reason why people are making a photo book.”
Once Avon MotoPhoto committed to PF Enterprise, the most time-consuming aspect of the switchover was selecting the proper images. Miller was choosy of the images to be used, so they would be consistent with the marketing message. The company used images from a variety of sources, including images shot in their own studio, stock images purchased online, and images from the Independent Photo Imagers (IPI) Marketing Solutions Program. Much of the website design was done by Photo Finale staff, with Miller having control over changes and updates. He noted Avon MotoPhoto staff could have done the work themselves, but chose to work with Photo Finale to get the launch accomplished more quickly. The September launch drew attention right away.
“Customers and employees noticed the change immediately and we had an uptick in sales right away,” says Miller. “It’s hard to argue with some of the numbers: Up 40 or 50 percent in November and 50-60 percent in December.”
In addition to the new attractive design, Avon MotoPhoto supported the website launch with vigorous promotions.
“We did a lot of advertising with Constant Contact, social media, boosted posts for Facebook and Instagram, and directing more traffic from store to the site,” explains Miller. “We were more comfortable with the site and how it worked. All associates knew what they showed online is what we actually produced in store, so they felt more confident directing customers there, rather than just saying, ‘Come in the store.’ People who go to a specialty retailer usually need a little handholding. If that information isn’t available online, that’s just more calls and stops at the store. Eventually, they’ll go elsewhere.”
Miller adds it is important to treat the website as its own business, not just as a promotional site for a brick-and-mortar location. Not only can the two complement each other, but each should also stand on its own.
“We didn’t make a conscious effort to push people away from the retail store – because we do want them to come in and see all we offer – but there’s something to be said by expanding your reach by opening things up,” he explains. “People are taking and printing more photos than ever before. Why are they not printing with a local retailer? It could be price and it could be the technology.
“I have found some small retailers who haven’t kept up with technology and invested in their website just hope people will show up at their door. They’ll throw up a basic website; that’s a losing proposition. People like to order multiple ways. I go to Starbucks; I order on my app and I order at the counter. Do I do both? Yes. It has to do with what’s convenient at the time. If Starbucks didn’t offer that, someone else did it, they might lose the business.”
“We look like a reputable, big-time photo place, not a clunky-looking place,” explains Miller. “It commands a presence like the bigger players have. We’ve had a lot of comments about the site being even easier to use than the big guys and, keep in mind, the backbone has not changed, which means we haven’t had to reconfigure a thing upgrading to Enterprise. Customers like the accessibility to the images, how it looks and flows.
“In terms of ease-of-use and speed, our staff were confident products would come in and render properly. We began to push customers in the store right to the website. We actually had people designing books on their iPhone, in the store. They could also upload the photos from their phone to our website and continue the order right on the kiosk, without having to plug in or trust a different computer.”
Miller adds the 24-hour nature of the internet has opened up sales opportunities: “Customers like to come in the store, but life’s busy. They don’t have time to run around during business hours. I am shocked how many orders come in between 10 o’clock at night and 6 in the morning. People who have busy lives.”
Looking to the rest of the year, Miller has ambitious goals to build Avon MotoPhoto’s ecommerce business, starting with getting more customer reviews.
“People look at reviews when they shop,” he says. “We will also be doing more with video and building online sales with new technology. We have to do a better job of telling people all the things they can do with their memories.”
Steve Elkins, Bedford Camera and Video
After years of expansion, Bedford Camera and Video is taking time this year to shore up operational efficiencies. The first step to doing that, according to Steve Elkins, Executive Vice President, was upgrading to Photo Finale Enterprise.
Bedford Camera and Video has eight locations throughout Oklahoma, Arkansas, and southwest Missouri. Since 2012, the retailer has opened locations in Oklahoma City, in Tulsa, and in Springfield, Mo., and also relocated one of its existing stores to a better location. All that expansion means, this year, the chain will look at shoring up processes, infrastructure and cash flow.
“Instead of opening anther brick-and-mortar store, we are looking at making what we have more efficient and high volume,” explains Elkins. “Essentially, we’re going to make sure the PF Enterprise system is as efficient as can be. We want more interaction on the services side, taking advantage of the fact we have the right site. If you don’t have confidence in your site, you’re not going to push it. We now have a lot of confidence.”
Elkins began talking to Photo Finale execs about moving to PF Enterprise in spring, 2016, at an industry buying group show. By early July, the new BedfordPix site was live.
But why invest in PF Enterprise at this point?
“You’ve got to look at the competition,” says Elkins. “If you look at the Shutterflys and the Walmart.coms, they are cutting edge. We had the same old stuff. We had the Photo Finale managed site, and it was okay, but it wasn’t the best. We saw what Photo Finale was doing with MailPix and London Drugs, and said, ‘That’s the look we want.’ We want to be cutting edge, like with drop-down shop menus, so people can quickly get to where they want to get to. That’s the whole crux of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make it simple and fast.”
For Elkins, an easy-to-use modern website is vital to compete in today’s marketplace.
“If you’re not a relevant player online, your brick-and-mortar is not going to survive,” he says. “You have to be relevant and visible. You shouldn’t have a basic cookie-cutter website, with ‘here’s my cameras I sell, you can order prints…’ We sell a lot of hard goods, because Bedfords.com is a very good photo-specialty dealer website. We’ve got a way to go there and we’re looking for ways to improve that, too.”
“If you think your website is going to drive them to brick-and-mortar, you are going down the wrong path,” explains Elkins. “We just don’t look at it that way. If they walk in our door, they are treated like royalty. If they don’t walk in our door, we want them treated online like royalty, with the easiest access they can get.”
Bedford Camera and Video also benefited from improved benefits from the latest Photo Finale updates: “We also had zero downtime on our Photo Finale system. I don’t have to worry about the server being down.”
As a result, Bedford Camera and Video saw improved sales right away, in unexpected areas.
“We showed significant growth, enough to offset the cost,” says Elkins. “The main growth areas we saw were in areas we weren’t doing as much business in. The visibility and the ease of ordering is why. We did more greeting cards and folded cards this year, and people are ordering more prints. We are getting 150-print orders.
“Where we failed – because of a lack of focus – is we are not a book seller,” he adds. “It’s not because the book engine isn’t great. It’s super. We are not pushing at point-of-sale and we’re not pushing it enough online to get people to understand they can order the best books in the market from Bedfordpix.com.”
Now that the staff has greater confidence in the website and kiosks, Elkins says the retailer is looking to expand in new profit centers, like Prestige Photo Books.
“Our focus this year is to get our staff to understand that our books, our calendars, and our other products exceed the quality level and the turnaround time of the competition,” says Elkins. “We launched the Prestige Books, which are great quality and we get them back within the 10 days we stated on our website. Even the soft-cover books from Photo Finale are a good value.”
Upgrading to PF Enterprise, with its greater reliability and usability, has been a big benefit to customers and staff, according to Elkins. Sales staff can recommend the website with confidence.
“We have promoted both the kiosks and BedfordPix, since they are kind of the same system, and we are having much fewer problems with people being able to upload pictures. It’s much smoother.”
Now that BedfordPix is up and running on PF Enterprise, the company can go back to maximizing revenues and cash flow.
“When I can get the response and service I get from Photo Finale, there’s no reason to even consider changing,” says Elkins. “We now have the growth I’m looking for, and our services are more visible, clean, easy and fast.”