Monday, January 14, 2013

Cameras 0, Ukuleles 1 - why Jessops failed

To no-one's surprise, the last chain of specialist camera shops, Jessops, has clicked its final shutter and closed their darkroom door. 187 shops and 1,370 jobs are no more. As a camera enthusiast, I'm saddened. As an observer of business, I'm annoyed. Jessops failed to react to market trends and paid the ultimate price. The popular argument for their demise is twofold. Firstly, the presence of a camera in every smart phone meant that people no longer needed to buy cameras at all. Secondly, Jessops became a showroom for shoppers to view and try out cameras before buying them online. 

Let's consider the first point. Yes, most people have smart phones with cameras of excellent quality. People take pictures all the time. Yes, sales of digital cameras have fallen by 29% in the last five years (source: Mintel research) to a mere £598 million in 2012. So there's still a market of nearly £600 million for sellers of digital cameras, not to mention the lenses, tripods, memory cards and other accessories. Despite a potential market of nearly a thousand million pounds, Jessops has thrown in the towel.

OK, maybe it was the second reason, online sales. There's no doubt that consumers use retail shops as places to browse and select goods before buying them at lower prices from online retailers. Maybe that's the real reason for Jessop's closure.

Which brings me to ukuleles. To be more precise, it brings me to a small shop just off Brick Lane in East London called the Duke of Uke. To no-one's surprise, it sells ukuleles, ukulele music and ukulele accessories. That's about it. It's very easy to find and buy ukuleles cheaper online, yet the shop thrives. Why? It's because of how they treat the customer. I visited the shop with my teenage daughter just before Christmas because she wanted a ukulele as a present. When we arrived, a couple of young women were singing beautifully while a chap behind the counter accompanied them on a large and sonorous uke. We waited until the song was over, applauded, and then sought advice. The staff couldn't have been more helpful. They explained the different types of ukuleles, let us practice with them, and gave us advice on tutorial guides and sheet music. In short, they were brilliant, and gave us a level of service you couldn't get anywhere near on a website.

So back to Jessops. Faced with a shrinking, but still huge, market, and competition based on price, they did nothing. My experience with them was that staff were poorly trained, had little knowledge of what was in the shop ("if it's not on display we haven't got it"), and weren't very skilled at using the cameras they were selling. They did re-launch their customer training program (Jessops Training Academy) in July 2012, but reports from attendees were somewhat mixed. In short, Jessops unlike the Duke of Uke, failed to become the Sultans of SLRs. What a great pity.


Stephen Harvard Davis said...

Spot on with your analysis.

I visited a Jessops store just before they folded and was appalled at the service.

The staff were trying to handle three customers at a time and one was on loan from another store and acted as if all she wanted to do was to go back there.

I did make a purchase but was 10% of what I had intended to spend!
Says it all really

Stephen Bray said...

Over the years I've bought lots of stuff from Jessops. It's untrue that all the staff are untrained, may were knowledgeable and helpful.

The reasons to visit Jessops, rather than simply to shop on-line, were that they carried lots of stock and so if you wanted to hold a piece of equipment, and dare I say compare it with a rival brand's offerings before purchasing, it was possible to do so.

There was also the temptation to impulse buy ... which may not seem such a good thing, but even photographers deserve a little 'retail therapy' once in a while.

My guess is that some high street photographic stores will survive. Two years ago I bought some equipment whilst visiting my daughter in Bristol, and received excellent service from both Bristol Cameras, and also a branch of London Camera Exchange. I would not have made purchases without trying the equipment in the shops.

The problem for Jessops was, I think, that they had too many stores. As a result each store became a liability, rather than an asset.

They would have done better to move their business from retail to on-line, retaining some staff to run shops at their main points of distribution, which is the model of Park Cameras, and Robert White.

Val said...

I think the failure is caused by mismanagement. Good management knows what trending cameras to sell so that they will be patronized. But I also agree with you that there are numerous online stores that offer quality products at affordable price. It can be one big factor.