Retail Chain Reaction

The announcement last week of the closure of the Jessops chain of photographic stores was said to be sad. I agree it’s sad for the staff affected, but I never had much affection for the stores which failed to distinguish themselves very much from the likes of Comet (which also went into receivership last year). Jessops seemed to exist merely to push cameras as if they were just another consumer durable which admittedly, they largely are, but cameras definitely require a more deft sales pitch than washing machines or widescreen TVs. I should know, I spent three years selling cameras back in the late 1980s before I went freelance.

Screen grab from Jessops website

Jessops website sets out the situation

Retail analyst Neil Saunders told BBC News that both amateurs and professionals migrated away from Jessops because amateurs have smartphone cameras (true) and because professionals could find better deals at specialist online stores. Hmm… Closer to the truth is, professionals never bought from Jessops as a rule so probably had little effect on their trade. And amateurs who are keen enough to want more than a smartphone are as likely to buy from online retailers as anyone.

Amalgamating the amateurs happy with their iPhones, those wanting something more but choosing to buy online and the few professional photographer customers Jessops had switching to online and the over-all number of professionals dwindling as the industry comes under pressure from microstock and budget cuts, you start to get a picture of how Jessops’ days were probably numbered regardless of what they did.

Mr Saunders’ observation (admittedly a brief sound-bite for BBC News) ignores the fact that Jessops also had an online presence. It’s just that it suffered the same ills as the high-street offering, being not a very exciting place to seek out and buy camera equipment.

As with many retailers, and indeed many high-street photographic retailers, Jessops’ problem was a lack of understanding of where the market was heading, the market heading off too fast and the retailer being too slow to react to the changes. By the time Jessops knew what was wrong (if they ever knew) it was too late to turn the ship around.

I fear Jessops may not be the last of the high street photographic retailers to hit the wall. As I mentioned, I spent a few years working in a camera shop, London Camera Exchange in Bath to be precise, and I fear such shops with their friendly, knowledgeable staff will soon vanish too. Independents seem equally ill-equipped to cope with the shifts in customer preferences. Look at their websites and you’ll see why.

London Camera Exchange specializes in part-exchange on camera equipment, but this side of the business took a massive hit with the rise of Ebay. Meanwhile the new equipment side of the business is being hit by online retailers and this formula for disaster is hitting many independents. Does it have to be so?

Hindsight, the best thing since sliced bread (and with hindsight I wish I’d invented that too), tells us that if the independents had taken on the internet sooner and better, they may have stolen a lead on the likes of Ebay. A specialized, safe place to buy and sell used camera equipment, perhaps even with a warranty service, would have given the likes of LCE a chance. If you look at what they actually offer, I’m not convinced the web is helping them.

Search their used section and you’ll see items for sale, but you have to contact the store to buy. You can’t make an online purchase. And the list of similar items brings up goods which are distinctive in their un-similarity to what you searched for (see photo). These issues alone point to a lack of understanding of or investment in their website.

London Camera Exchange Website

London Camera Exchange website is a little underwhelming

It could well be too late and too big an investment for independents to turn their web offerings around, and that’s a shame because it will mean fewer high-street independent camera shops where you can get friendly advice, hands-on experience with cameras or the option to buy secondhand knowing you have somewhere to return the item should there be a problem.

I’ll state here I also write for Wex Photographic, an online photography retailer, and their staff and service are excellent in my experience. But they don’t do secondhand…

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  • Ross Merritt January 15, 2013  

    So true. Their stores are/were so unexciting and
    uninspiring. The only times I went in were to see the equipment in
    person before purchasing online!

    • Glass Eye January 15, 2013  

      I suspect you weren’t the only one 😉