In defence of bricks

Occasional correspondent Alan Small, Taree Camera House, proposes some radical strategies to stave off the barbarians at the gate: superior customer service, product knowledge and expertise, the human touch…

It is apparent in Australia, and probably worldwide, that conventional ‘bricks & mortar’ photographic retailers have been vastly undervalued. Which might explain their diminishing numbers.

There is evidence however, that the tide might be turning: that customers see the value in having a personal connection with their photo retailer; in having staff to explain matters of importance to them; in asking for the advice of experienced people; in having ongoing support during the life of their product; in having their local store staff remember their name and even smile at them; or provide the simple but worthwhile service of just cleaning their lens without charge.

It all adds to the value of the retail experience and if it all comes at a slight premium, then it
is worth it in the longer term. That premium needs to be justified and promoted as value adding. 

Relate this to the airline experience: If you want sardine conditions with minimum service and hospital food, choose the lowest priced seat with the no frills airline. However if you want better than that, it will cost a little more, and a large slice of travellers are paying the extra.

Specialist retailer organisations have been poor salespeople of the value of what they do, and that online sellers or that large impersonal discount chains cannot do.

As specialist retailers we should understand and exploit the differences. The reality is that a hamburger from Greasy Joe’s and one from an upmarket high grade hamburger palace, is still a hamburger, but the price difference is easily justified if it is sold correctly. The inescapable point is that there is room for both if it is done well.

With all their resources, big brands have been slow to realise that the greatest resource for market share and customer satisfaction is a strong dealer network, supported and
appreciated for what it can do. In turn that will flow on to end users, who will become
more than one-time clients, but ongoing loyal customers for many years.

Competing directly with that dealer network may in the long run prove to be dumber than anything else the big brands have done, not to mention provoking possible legal action when the retailer goes belly-up, citing misuse of market power, unfair trading policies, reduced market diversity and therefore, less fair competition.

Fair Trading and the ACCC, have recently broadened their base, to look more closely
at such things in Australia.

But with a bit of common sense, it should never come to such a situation.
– Alan Small
Taree Camera House


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