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Signs of life in Christmas retail reports

‘Patchy but pleasing’ probably best describes Christmas trading results, judging by comments contributed from retailers and suppliers this week.

It appears that printing and gifting showed some renewed vigour, while the savage discounting tactics of the CE channel, noted by both Ted’s Camera’s boss Nic Peasley and, on the supplier side, Malcolm Pirie, Maxwell International, dragged hardware margins  down.

Several retailers noted that online photo services in particular were up on 2011, a welcome development for a retail sector still reeling from the one-two punch combination of the downturn in photo printing and Fujifilm/Harvey Norman/BigW’s 8- and 10-cent print thuggery.

So presumably, the plan worked, and all that aggressive pre-Christmas discounting by the non-specialist channels delivered a high volume of sales? Well not according to ‘last man standing’ Gerry Harvey, who told the AFR sales were ‘reasonable but not fantastic’. In hard data terms he expected a sales growth or contraction for the period of around one per cent on 2011.

Online services up
– Chris Harris, Bay Park Photos, Pt Macquarie

BayParkChristmas wasn’t too bad. Binocular and spotting scope sales were down 70 percent on last year, but last Christmas saw a spike in their sales. Our printing was up 15 percent but our photo frame sales were down despite this. Camera and accessory sales were up 25 percent, but overall sales were down 15 percent.

The usual extras like frames were much slower than usual, though sales after Christmas of these were good. Online gifting and printing was way up on 2011 as was gifting in general.

Where last year saw people buying non traditional items, this year it was back to basics. People were also after status symbols (ie, brand) and not value for money.

CSC taking off, CE discounting drags down margins
– Nic Peasley, Ted’s Cameras

TedsChristmas 2012 was an interesting trade period with the 8-day leadup to the Tuesday creating less of a mad rush in most stores. We found that sales were more evenly spread across that period rather than concentrated into the last few days. DSLR and lens sales plus Compact System Cameras were again our lead category with CSC in particular now really taking off. Video remains strong for us as we have remained committed to that category and have kept depth of range and stock up with the main four brands.

Our CE channel friends drove a very aggressive price position, particularly in bottom end compact but also in DSLR, and this had some impact on margin as we strove to remain price competitive at store level. Our new store at Fountain Gate did extremely well as did our Maroochydore store (ex-Camera House). Photofinishing was very strong early although it quietened off later in the month. We had solid results across stretch canvas and enlargements plus some good traction in the High Definition Premium Photobook venture that we have undertaken with Pictureworks. (Using Canon’s new Dreamlabo commercial inkjet printer.

Online sales were mixed, with excellent traffic to the site but a dip in sales at the top end as the grey online retailers and local players chopped away at the price.

We were generally happy with the overall result given the tough trading conditions, although the price game that the CE guys are playing is clearly not good for the specialty retailers and margin.

Stock support through our key suppliers has been very good throughout December also. All in all, a difficult trading environment but one in which we have managed the business carefully and maintained our strong start to the year.

Compacts down, DSLRs up, margins down
– Jill Boswell, Snapshot Cameras, Hamilton, NZ

SnapshotAt Snapshot Cameras sales of entry-level compact cameras was down (due to impact of Smartphones?) but sales of SLRs was up. Unfortunately every second customer wanted us to match someone else’s (lower) price, so margin wasn’t as good as it could have been. At times we made more margin from the accessories we added on at the time of sale! Other camera retailers we’ve spoken to noticed the same in compacts vs SLRs.

On the whole we were satisfied with our December sales. January so far has been quiet – many customers are still away.

Sell-in good, but…
– Tracy Lints, Photo Direct

PDirectWhat we know is that Photo Direct trading over Christmas was good…..but that is just our sell-in, so the $64 million question is how much stock are the stores still sitting on, and therefore what sort of orders will we see through rest of January and into February.

Anecdotally we hear from stores that trading was good – the big guys faring better than the little guys. But let’s see how many and who puts their hands in pockets to re-order.

Online and gifting good
– Phil Gresham, Fotofast, Brisbane

FFastThe usual extras like frames were much slower than usual, though sales after Christmas of these were good. Online gifting and printing was way up on 2011 as was gifting in general.

Personalised gifts, gallery frames popular
– Garrett Rooney, T3C, Tamworth

TamTraded well over the Christmas period. People seemed to be looking for value in personalised gifts. Gallery frames were a hit, as were frames in general. Have not done the analysis on previous years as yet, but my gut would say up on last year.

Lots of actioncam action, consumers more canny
– Malcolm Pirie, National Sales Manager, Maxwell International

MaxwellIndependents with a good solid brand strategy who planned ahead faired better than anyone; the likes of Diamonds would be the best example.

Strong traditional high foot-traffic area stores also faired better than destination stores too, it seemed. It certainly carried well through Chistmas.

It was all about Go-Pro and to a lesser extent other actioncams and the accessories for them. Demand for bags and carrying/attachment solutions, etc, was high.

Quality at good prices was high on every shopper’s agenda; the industry is certainly seeing more prime and fixed focal lens sales than ever. The market has matured and consumers are shopping for f1.8 lenses and fixed focal lenses as their understanding and desire for premium quality optics grows to higher levels than has been experienced for years. This is also apparent for Olympus OMD users, where Olympus Micro Four Thirds fixed focal lenses are gaining solid traction.

Some less specialised resellers struggled with up-selling in DSLR and were relying on price as the driver to move stock, however the shoppers that are walking through their doors are more savvy than ever. Such people are less susceptible to the price-driven practices of some retailers. Consumers are now much more aware of the facts from blogs and forums, and are looking for experience of first-hand knowledge of what is being sold to them, rather than a salesperson who merely reads what’s on the box.

For Maxwell, we saw nice sales of our new Tamron 24-70mm and 70-200mm F2.8 lenses. Strong sales through our Tamron range resulted which meant minimum investment for shelf presence for the retailer, but solid unit sell-through returns as well as above-industry ASP numbers.

Lowepro performed well despite the poor compact camera market where we are very dominant with our pouches. We certainly ‘over-performed’ in a very tough market environment as retailers aligned themselves with perennial performing brands such as Lowepro.

Please feel free to share your own Christmas trading experiences to the above, via the Readers Comments panel below – or drop me an email at

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