Camera - - NEWS - Paul Bur­rows, Ed­i­tor

THE AR­RIVAL ON home turf of on­line sell­ing colos­sus Ama­zon has had the Aus­tralian re­tail in­dus­try in a tizz, par­tic­u­larly a num­ber of spe­cial­ist ar­eas such as books, con­sumer elec­tron­ics and pho­tog­ra­phy. It’s too early to tell whether the sky will fall on our heads, but as far as camera buy­ers are con­cerned, I’m not so sure ev­ery­body is go­ing to sud­denly change the way they make their pur­chases.

OK, so Ama­zon has built a trusted brand be­cause it de­liv­ers on its prom­ises (there’s a les­son there for all re­tail­ers) and so the buy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is al­ways a pos­i­tive one. And you can nearly al­ways get what you want with the min­i­mum of fuss which, to be fair, is true of many on­line sell­ers, in­clud­ing in pho­tog­ra­phy. The key Aus­tralian play­ers in this space – digi-DI­RECT and Dig­i­tal Camera Ware­house – have also cre­ated solid rep­u­ta­tions by do­ing the same things. I’ve pur­chased from both and they’ve never dis­ap­pointed. In one in­stance, I was called per­son­ally to be in­formed that my or­der would take slightly longer than promised to ful­fil… sorry for the de­lay, but we’re onto it. Ser­vice.

Over the last few years the Aus­tralian mar­ket has ma­tured to the point where the al­lure of buy­ing from over­seas-based on­line sell­ers has di­min­ished, partly be­cause the price dif­fer­ences are no longer at­trac­tive enough, but also be­cause you can’t al­ways be guar­an­teed you’ll get what you or­dered. A con­certed ef­fort by the lo­cal in­dus­try to en­force the value of an Aus­tralian war­ranty has helped too. How­ever, the ma­tu­rity of Aus­tralian buy­ers – al­lied in some part with the ma­tu­rity of the dig­i­tal imag­ing tech­nolo­gies along with a rea­son­ably healthy econ­omy – means that they’ve largely moved be­yond look­ing at price alone and want to make more in­formed de­ci­sions. We’re over the time of reg­u­lar up­grades be­cause the tech­nol­ogy was chang­ing so quickly… now a new dig­i­tal camera is ex­pected to (and cer­tainly can) serve you a lot longer, so it’s once again im­por­tant to make the right de­ci­sions. As a re­sult, the face-to-face ex­pe­ri­ence of a bricks-and-mor­tar (or, per­haps more ac­cu­rately, a flesh-and-blood) camera store is re­gain­ing value.

It’s no ac­ci­dent that the ma­jor on­line play­ers in this coun­try now also have one or more real stores as well, or that their Web­sites all have chat fa­cil­i­ties to deal with ques­tions in a more per­sonal way. Of course, the big­ger on-street re­tail­ers also have on­line busi­nesses so it’s be­com­ing less and less about ‘us-and-them’ and more about giv­ing con­sumers what they want… in what­ever way they want. That said, while buy­ers may well be bet­ter in­formed than ever be­fore, the hands-on demo con­ducted by a well-trained sales­per­son pro­vides ed­u­ca­tion, con­fir­ma­tion and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, val­i­da­tion. For many, this is in­creas­ingly worth the ef­fort of ac­tu­ally go­ing to a shop rather than sit­ting at home brows­ing on­line.

With phys­i­cal space lim­i­ta­tions, it can be hard for a high street camera store to stock ev­ery­thing, but then we’re not talk­ing about an end­less ar­ray of brands here as is the case in some in­dus­tries, and ev­ery­body has been forced to be more creative about in­ven­tory. Even the rel­a­tive ‘new­com­ers’ (such as Pana­sonic and Sony) are now well rep­re­sented across the coun­try, re­duc­ing the need to en­dure the trauma of en­ter­ing a con­sumer elec­tron­ics chain store.

There’s lit­tle doubt on­line sell­ing has flour­ished be­cause many in tra­di­tional re­tail­ing didn’t quite grasp the con­cept of ser­vice and this has still been slow to change, but the pho­tog­ra­phy in­dus­try has put in quite a bit of ef­fort here, and stan­dards have un­doubt­edly lifted. If the spe­cial­ist camera stores (and, in­deed, the Aus­tralian-owned on­line sell­ers) de­liver the ser­vice that buy­ers ex­pect and want, then Ama­zon has less chance of desta­bil­is­ing (or de­valu­ing) the mar­ket. Of course, we con­sumers have to play fair too, at least giv­ing the lo­cals a chance to prove them­selves and show­ing some loy­alty when they do.

A healthy and vi­brant re­tail sec­tor is in all our in­ter­ests and, as the crit­i­cal link be­tween con­sumers and the dis­trib­u­tors and man­u­fac­tur­ers, it holds the key to the for­mer’s sat­is­fac­tion and the lat­ter’s prof­itabil­ity. How­ever it hap­pens, ser­vice is the key.

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