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Ascot Photo: Horses for courses

Michelle and Matthew O’Brien like to run their own show, and revel in the independence of their bright and airy 10-year-old store, Ascot Photo+Digital, in the Brisbane suburb of Hamilton.

‘Being independent allows us to pick and choose,’ explained Michelle O’Brien (pictured right with Matthew).

And pick and choose they do, with APS supplying gifting hardware and consumables; Oblo kiosk software from IPS; Momento delivering premium photo books designed in-house on behalf of their customers; and Photo Direct providing Lifepics photo services software and offsite fullfilment of other photo book orders.

When it comes to kiosk hardware, the choice was three Dell computers with touch screens ‘for the cost of one of those [branded photo kiosks and software] – but with no ongoing fees!’

Three for the price of one: Ascot Photo+Digital chose Dell PCs and touch screens loaded with Oblo kiosk software at around the same cost as one dedicated photo kiosk unit.

– This picking and choosing is not simply a matter of ‘sharing the love’. Each of these decisions was well-considered. For instance, Michelle and Matthew decided Lifepics was best suited to Ascot Photo+Digital’s specific requirements:

‘We’ve already had a website for eight or nine years and we didn’t need a full online retailing system – we just needed an online ordering system for photo services with a similar look and feel. We didn’t want to lose the value of our existing site.’

Customers go to the Ascot Photo+Digital homepage, then a similar-looking ‘Order Photos’ page which outlines the in-store and online options, and only then do they jump to the Lifepics section, which retains a resonance with the other sections of the Ascot website.

Michelle O’Brien was anxious that customers didn’t feel were being foisted onto another service providor by clicking to a page which is not well-integrated with Ascot’s website design.

‘Our customers need to know they are not being directed to another company’s website, so personalising the Lifepics homepage and making it clear that we still print their photos is very important to us. That is why we send them through the Ascot Photo website first.’

Just as Michelle and Matthew have been discriminating in selecting the most suitable solutions from a range of suppliers, they also understand that their customers are not an amorphous mass who all respond to the same message.

‘It wasn’t long before I was getting lots of feedback from our customers and I quickly realised that just because I knew how to use the Lifepics system, it didn’t mean others did.’

Understanding and enhancing each customer’s level of ability was the key, so Michelle created some brochure copy which she ‘tested’ with customers to ensure it was clear and the ‘how-to’ bits were easy to follow.

‘The difficulty is making things clear for everyone to follow without patronising those who think they can do it,’ she explained.

The end solution was two separate brochures – one dealing with the basics of turning digital files into photos online, and another (below) dealing more specifically with making photos from smartphones.

A separate brochure was created to explain how to get photos from smartphones, while avoiding confusing customers who simply wanted to print their photos online.

‘ If I added information on apps from phones…it would truly confuse some people who don’t own them,’ she explained.

‘Most of the customers we hand the leaflets to are willing to have a try, and as a result of creating these two leaflets we have definitely noticed an increase of traffic through the website.

‘Our customer base is predominantly local, repeat residents and not so tech savvy, therefore the leaflets have given them the confidence to try the online service. We have an issue with parking and we still want our customers to come in-store so Lifepics presents them with the opportunity to pre-order before they come down.

‘We are about to start quite a big magazine advertising campaign to drive customers to the site, and will be using the flyers as wallet stuffers to reinforce the service.

‘There is also a strong set of links on our website to direct people onto our Lifepics page.  We promote our store website on everything we do.  Ascot Photo+Digital turns 10 this year, so we have the perfect opportunity to market ourselves over the next few months and one objective is to re-engage with customers who are finding printing from digital a little overwhelming or too time-consuming.  And that’s where Lifepics comes in.’

Michelle had two further pieces of advice for retailers seeking to grow their business. First; ‘you can’t assume that people know everything that you can do’ – she said transfer of video to DVD is a classic example, and further noted this is a great service to promote off-season when things are a little slow.

She said that now that customers were keeping a closer watch on the purse-strings it didn’t mean they wouldn’t spend. If you’ve developed a good customer relationship ‘they want to shop with you – they just need to justify it to themselves.’

Consequently, the retailer ‘needs to find a product customers can justify spending money on – and you can make a profit on’.

The other tip was to avoid a negative in-store atmosphere: ‘There is no need to be negative. There’s no point complaining that the post office is doing passports or whatever.

‘Customers pick up on that negativity in store.’

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