(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the photographic equipment sector
Since the early 1990s, there have been three major developments which have radically affected the photographic equipment sector. The first was the introduction of the digital camera in the 1990s which rapidly gained market share from the traditional film camera and had all but replaced it by the middle of the 2000s.
The second was the launch of mobile phones with integrated cameras in the 2000s. To begin with, these were not particularly sophisticated and the photos were of fairly low quality. Nevertheless, they were good enough to undermine sales of single-use film cameras. Since the end of the decade though, smartphones with ever-improving integrated cameras have had a significant impact on compact camera sales and this has been particularly noticeable in the 2010s, with digital camera unit sales falling dramatically.
The third has been the steady growth of e-commerce. As in many retail sectors, the entry into the photographic market by online retailers - specialist and non-specialist - has put constant downward pressure on retail prices and has eroded the market share held by the independent sector.
An initial side effect of the switchover to digital equipment was a sharp reduction in the number of images that were printed out and this continued for a number of years although it now appears to have levelled out, probably because of the sheer volume of photos taken compared with previously and also because many social media and image sharing sites now include photo printing options. Also, some in-store photo kiosks now include the facility to connect via wi-fi to smartphones making it easier for people to print out their photos. Nevertheless, photo printing is now a very competitive market, dominated by the online specialists like Photobox and Snapfish.
The economic downturn during the late 2000s and early 2010s intensified the pressure on the independent sector and resulted in falling profit levels as retailers were forced to discount as consumers looked for the best deals. Although the 2010s have seen strong consumer demand for compact system cameras, which are positioned between compact digital cameras and digital SLRs, as well as for 'superzoom' compacts and more recently 'action' cameras, this hasn't been enough to compensate for the large fall in demand for lower-end compact digital cameras. It hasn't just been the independent sector that has been affected by recent difficult trading conditions. In early 2013, the specialist Jessops chain went into administration with the loss of all 187 of its stores. The chain was then bought out of administration and re-launched two months later. It currently operates on a much smaller scale with 58 Jessops shops open in October 2018. The business is now trading successfully, with its CEO saying that it was put back on its feet by adopting a very deliberate and clear focus on attracting the camera enthusiasts and hobbyists, whose first love is photography. They have now started targeting smartphone users with in-store facilities for uploading several pictures, arranging them on screen and printing them, framing them and gift wrapping them, creating a product they wouldn't otherwise be able to create.
One of the difficulties facing photographic equipment retailers is how to attract a new generation of customers. For some independents it has been important to move away from the traditional, rather old fashioned type of outlet, and to offer the latest digital cameras and related equipment whereas others have shifted focus to cater for photographers that choose to use film cameras. (Some of these may be older photographers that prefer to use equipment that they're familiar with while others may be younger people experimenting with traditional photography techniques.)
People have become more and more concerned about the effect their purchases have on the environment. It's important to demonstrate to customers that your business is environmentally aware, particularly if you use potentially harmful chemicals in developing and processing.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association can be an excellent way of staying up to date with developments in your industry.
The Imaging Alliance promotes the economic growth and development of current and future imaging applications worldwide. Visit the Imaging Alliance website for more information.
You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show for the photographic sector. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. Visit the Exhibitions UK website for further information of forthcoming exhibitions.