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Pleasing trends in Christmas trading

While the daily press and electronic media have characteristically taken lacklustre general retail performance over the Christmas period and spun it into a near catastrophe, there’s a significantly different story coming direct from photo retailers.

At worst the retailers we asked for input on how they traded through Christmas and into January was ‘better than last year’, but the trend which is most encouraging is the increased engagement by customers with photo gifting products – at long last!

The other interesting trend which can be discerned from the comments below is a ‘flight to quality’ – both in terms of consumers’ purchases and their tendancy to seek the kind of expert advice and superior service not generally availble from non-specialist outlets.


Phil Gresham,
Fotofast, Brisbane

Retail in general was patchy, according to my old centre manager. Specialty retail was up in the Myer Centre. With our move in June (from the Myer Centre to a nearby Brisbane city street location) we were not sure what to expect, but we needn’t have been concerned as customers found us in droves.

Customers appreciate the larger and more comfortable shopping experience we were able to provide this year.

Online was crazy; huge growth from 2010. We’ve probably added an extra four days to the month having online. We were sending all around Australia – I was amazed where we got orders from. Express Post in the last week was standard. This was our first year with books and calendars and we will not cope without a digital press in the future.

Photo books were substantially up – I think we can safely say they have ‘arrived’. Calendars were in their sixth season with our HP system and continue to grow. Old customers keep coming back, some only do calendars each year.

Gifting was also crazy –  we needed two flat presses and more than two mug presses. Canvas was also very popular and grew significantly despite every man and his dog in the business these days.

New gifting products added during the year were very popular.

(Watch for my tweets from PMA-CES: account is @Fotofast.)


John Ralph,
Erina Camera House

Trading in our store was significantly better this year than last. Since reducing our floor area last February, we have reduced our staffing requirements and then shown consistently good improvements for seven out of the last eight months.

December was nicely into double digit improvement. On top of this our gross profit improved in a market where accessory sales made up the shortfall in discounted SLRs.

The biggest sales area was SLR, with profit being generated by including the ‘works’ package in with the main unit where possible. We tried to find at least four accessories for each compact camera and double that for SLRs. SLR sales were evenly spread between the two major suppliers. The compact pro (mirrorless interchangeable) segment also made its first significant sales following the Nikon1 launch, reaching well into double digit percentage of the SLRs sold.

Traditional video was well down but the dollars there were made up by the action video segment (eg, GoPro) which went crazy in the run up to Christmas [Nic Peasley from Ted’s Cameras also noted immediately prior to Christmas that this was popular new category – Ed] and their accessories are selling well afterwards.

We didn’t sell a lot of cheap digital cameras but most customers appeared happy to look at improved features and then spend a little more. Underwater cameras were slow, perhaps due to colder weather in the lead up, but now have started to move through.

Traditional printing was down but this was our first good year with canvases, enlargements, calendars, photo books and cards for some time. Frame and album sales also have improved and it seems that our customers are wanting variety and a change from the common items found in mass merchants etc.

Garrett Rooney
Tamworth Colour Copy Centre

Business was steady and shows  growth on last year (but that wouldn’t be hard).

I’ve done some analysis of our retail for December period and the percentages are as follows..

2008 …. 100 percent (Baseline)
2009 ….  Down 23 percent on 2008
2010 ….  Down  6 percent on 2009
2011 ….  Up  62 percent on 2010

The last figure only equates to an 18 percent increase on the 2008 figure, and that’s with the closure of six photo stores locally in that period.

We have had some changes since the last Christmas with the closure of the only other photo speciality retailer (Eastmon) in January of 2011.

Big W, Harvey Norman and K-mart were the main winners with that closure, as Eastmon had attempted to compete on price with the mass merchants, while we maintain our price points and ensure the Kodak Quality is maintained.

We have noticed an increase in frame sales and obviously the prints to go in them. Personalised gifting was nothing to write home about and I would estimate it to be down.

Considering we do all gifting in-house and we do not have the cut offs that the mass merchants do, I would suggest that even the mass merchants gifting would be down.

Photo books do not sell in Tamworth. I had one enquiry and that is with it being marketed on the kiosks and being easy to use from the kiosks with an instant printer to provide the book within minutes.

Camera sales were down slightly. Personal calendars were the flavour of the month with an increase in those – maybe some customers heard the Mayan calendars were running out and wanted to beat the rush for new ones!

I am finding that there is a discerning clientele that want a good product at a fair price and they are starting to leave the mass merchants in the same way the 4c a litre discount for petrol has lost its charm.

A lot of the retailers in Tamworth are saying the same.. ‘up on last year – but that wouldn’t be hard’.

Looking forward, I think that at US47 cents a share Kodak may not be with us for much longer, an that is self-inflicted with them following the market instead of leading it and also not engaging the clients with a good marketing message. We may well see Kodak shares at a lower price than their 4×6 print price before long, which is tragic. I only hope that if it does fail, the brand will be picked up by someone who has the ability to look forward instead of back and not worry what everyone else is doing.

I look forward to the year ahead and go with the mantra, ‘if you don’t evolve you die’  as a means to survive – and hopefully a little more than survive.

I believe in the interdependence of community (the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker) and I think that there are elements within my community that have started to realise that without local business there are no local jobs. Maybe it’s only a rural thing, but I would like to think that all the sound bites that come out about giving someone a fair go might just start being acted on.

Alan Small.
Camera House, Taree,

We had a good December even though spring  was just average.

The business is changing and changing fast,  but I don’t think that’s a reason to jump off the bridge just yet.  I just think we all need to understand a few things.

We are always going to be challenged by something.  The Harvey Norman, Bing Lee, Good Guys ‘just appeal to their greed’ syndrome is now fading and we are confronted by a wall of challenges on the internet. However that has its good and bad side too: if they buy a reasonably sophisticated camera on the ‘net – and thousands do – that can generate all sorts of business on the specialty floor from two metre enlargements, to accessories, lenses, remote controls, flashguns, lessons, filters, books, bags, software, monopod/tripods, archival albums, sensor cleaning, etc etc.

We have a policy of treating ‘net buyers just as we would long-term customers, and quite often they can be fiercely loyal even though they bought the major item online. Our staff are trained not to  react in any way (other than positive) to what people buy elsewhere, even if it is crap at times.

When they find you are not judgemental or give a ‘send it back to where you got it’ reaction if they have a problem or want advice, you will see them in fairly often. So the internet purchase can become an engine to generate other business. That’s OK, dollars are dollars and margins on small items are much higher than on top-end gear.  There is no other road to take.  And quite often it is much less stressful not to have made the major camera sale in the first place.

I think we as specialists have a future if we accentuate the differences in how we operate and what we offer (no discounter can offer an in-depth line of products for example) and we accept that people are going to shop around and buy where their fancy takes them.

They will never again, in general, be totally loyal to the one store,  but if we turn our brains on there are good opportunities that flow from their decisions, particularly if you can make them look clever. Doubly important for males.

But that brings me to  one major point- our future more than ever before, is bound up in catering for women. They have taken on photography as a huge part of their (creative) lives and they will be more loyal than men if they don’t feel patronised or ever made to look foolish.


Tim Jones,
Perfect Prints, Hobart

Frames, albums, enlargements, canvas prints, calendars, books, mugs, print scanners all really good. Cameras slow.

So a high margin, almost traditional photo shop Christmas.

Maybe that’s what we are!

How did your store trade this Christmas? Any stand-out product categories or trends? Has photo gifting gained traction among your customers? How about the New Zealand scene? We are all here to learn, so please add to this informal survey via our Readers Comments box below.


One Comment

  1. Paul Clarke Paul Clarke January 12, 2012

    Xmas this year was scary as it only slowly sputtered into life in spits and starts. It really only got going in the last 10 days but it all ended up ok which for us was a single digit decline in sales over December 10, not bad considering the redevelopment of Carindale has meant a 30%+ cut in customer car parking. What we didn’t bargain for was the change in buying patterns, usually we have normal trade plus xmas buyers but this year the latter totally dominated trade. This meant:

    Passports – down
    Printing – down
    Frames – Up
    Cameras – down by single digits, not bad given the deflation in prices
    T shirts, stubby holders, mouse mats and mugs – huge last year well down this Xmas
    Photo books, cards and calendars – Up
    Scans/Inlab – down
    Canvas’s – huge increase, late nights and early mornings printing/coating/framing
    Accessories – Up
    Albums – up
    Film & Developing – down
    Internet orders = added the = of 1 days trading but still accelerating

    There was no hint that sales, although quite good at first appearance, were going to be skewed towards products and away from higher margin services. Given our reduced cost base which we re-profiled and investment in new equipment to make us more efficient to reflect the reality of the car parking issues, we should have killed the pig. But that’s not the way it played out so the only line which grew was the one around my waist which is at least one trend in these uncertain times which can be consistently relied upon.

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