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Virtual stores the new reality

In the last week of March, Canadian-based photo retailing software specialists Dakis held a worldwide webinar for independent photo retailers and photo labs  looking to sharpen up their online retailing during and after the Coronavirus pandemic.

While there was some content relating specifically to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the Dakis system, the topics covered were relevant to any small photo business adapting to the predominantly online environment the coronavirus lockdown has provoked.

Philippe Hugron and Ryan Fleury from Dakis emphasised that a responsive website – that is, a website which works well on mobile phones and tablets as well as computers – was now essential. With few if any customers walking into stores, a website which doesn’t work for a significant segment of potential customers is effectively losing you sales.

Inside Imaging sessions by device over the last 90 days shows that mobiles account for a third of our readers and growing. Without a responsive website, you business could be missing out on online traffic. (Source: Google Analytics)

(NOTE: Inside Imaging can vouch for the superiority of a responsive website. When we switched about 18 months ago to our new mobile-friendly website architecture, the proportion of subscribers and readers accessing our website on mobile phone rose from under 10 percent to around one third, and overall traffic increased significantly.)

A responsive website is also critical because Google (it which must be obeyed), will punish you in terms of page rankings if you don’t do as you are told:

‘If you are on a desktop only website chances are Google is not too happy with you. Your load speeds are likely to be inferior and you will have certain practices which won’t be ideal in today’s world, and you are not going to have a mobile friendly website.

‘A responsive website as opposed to something from 2010 is very, very important.’

‘Google prioritises sites that are mobile-friendly. The better you are going to rank and the better online experience for customers.

‘When you are talking about a responsive website you are likely to have an accompanying SSL certifcate. For those of you who don’t, you need to get one.’

SSL Certificates are small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to your businesses details. When installed on a web server, it activates the padlock and the https protocol, and allows secure connections from a web server to a browser.

The enccryption protects important data such as your customers’ User Ids, passwords, and  credit card details. Sites which are SSL compliant (https) score a better rank in organic searches and also reassure customers – Google will rank you as ‘not secure’ without one.

‘It pleases the mighty Google gods, and you want to do this to make sure you are out there in searches.’

Landing pages
Throughout the webinar, Dakis emphasised the importance of well-designed, informative ‘landing pages’. Landing pages divide what you have on offer into logical categories – for instance film and film processing – and should provide a ‘call to action’  to encourage the viewer to become a customer.

‘If you build a landing page correctly you can make it really easy for a customer to visit a page and then easily select what category of product they want to go to with all the templates sorted by tags.’

Landing pages can also be used for special promotions, which should be of particular interest to retailers right now.

‘Once you build this page you can always have a rotating banner on the homepage promoting it,or you can have a button underneath the fold or the banner. You want to be more than the clerk. You want to be the guy that grabs the customers by the hand and takes them exactly where they want to be.

‘Beyond everything else you are creating content and getting keywords out there. Things like “graduation”, or that you have a new camera coming out, or “mail order film processing” or “shoebox scanning”.

‘You can build landing pages for all of these things with 250 words of jam-packed condensed text that talks about the keywords that are pertinent to you and your customers. Don’t underestimate the power of a landing page.’

Accentuate the positive

This website screenshot was highlighted as a creative and positive approach to the new reality. It states clearly that the website is open for business and tells customers this is a real business run by real people.

‘Its important to be positive about what you have to offer. List the services you still have to offer, highlight your opening hours if you are still open, if you have free shipping. State your message around what you are still doing, rather than what you are not longer doing. So for instance mail order film processing: you let them know rapidly how to buy film; how to buy a film camera; how to get my film processed by mail order with you guys – do I need to download a form or can I buy the form online or do I just print the PDF and send it all to you; how do I pay you – through the  webstore or do you invoice.

‘So be clear on your landing pages about every step people need to know to make a transaction with you.’

Retailers need to review their websites, starting at their homepages to make sure they are still able to offer what they say they can offer.

‘You want to review your homepage. I don’t think you’ll be selling a lot of passport photos in the next few weeks, so you will want to highlight products and services that people can order online. Emphasise the products and services you can offer right now.’

– And what you can offer right now with the least effort: ‘A lot of stores are now a one or two-person team, so focus on what can do best. Keep it simple quick and available now. On the print side make sure all your photo print options are well organised so you have your 4×6 all the way to however large you can print.

On the creative product side – greeting cards, wall décor, gifts, etc, make sure you de-activate anything you can’t offer right now to remove the clutter and avoid frustrating customers. And make sure you activate everything you can do in-house because the website is pretty well the only way potential customers will find out.

Focus on what you can sell the easiest and also, as you will be selling less than usual, there needs to be a greater focus on up-selling and cross selling. For instance, if you are selling a poster make sure you offer a frame or any sort of mount or attachment to the wall. Offer a range of finishes. Like Dakis customer Fitzgerald Photo in WA, offer image correction for $5 a pop.

People are at home and have a lot of time to go through their old picture collections so services like shoebox scanning, video transfers, photo retouching and slide scans will be of interest.

When it comes to hardware such as cameras and lenses, your website may not currently list every single product on your store’s shelves. Everything you have to offer should be on the webstore. While adding new products can be tedious and time-consuming, a good website back-end should provide a means to auto-upload products. (Dakis uses CSV files for mass uploads.)

The Dakis boys covered a lot more in the 90-minute presentation than we have reported above (it’s deadline day), including using social media, eblasts and other tools to help you promote your business; how to set up curbside pickup; free shipping promotions; upgrading your POS system to assist online sales; using Google tools such as Analytics, Google Business and the Google Console; online photo courses; the pros and cons of website chat tools; promoting passion for photography; and general ideas for effective photo retailing in the new Coronavirus era.

Well worth a listen!



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