There is a lot to be excited about with the photo merchandise market. Products like photo cards and photo books as well as wall décor have great staying power. That’s because they deliver good value for the money and make thoughtful and sentimental gifts. This remains evident throughout the Covid-19 pandemic; many consumers continued to buy these products even as unemployment numbers rose and there was uncertainty about the future of the U.S. economy.
Rise Above Research conducted a thorough U.S. consumer survey of the photo merchandise market in late 2020; it comprised more than 1,200 respondents between the ages of 13 and 79. The survey focused on buying habits with cards, books, calendars, wall décor (including glass, metal, acrylic, wood and canvas prints) and drinkware (including mugs, glasses, water bottles). In addition, we explored the effects of Covid-19 on purchasing trends.
Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact in our lives over the last year; moreover, photo merchandise buying habits are no exception. While some consumers experienced financial difficulties with job losses or less income, the photo merchandise market fared pretty well, all things considered.
Our survey results found that while 27% of photo merchandise buyers said they bought less because of Covid-19, there were 55% who said the pandemic had no effect. Notably, 18% said they bought more. Photo cards were impacted the most, due to fewer events to send out cards (such as weddings, graduation and birthday parties). We count this as a win when we compare it to how the pandemic decimated other markets.
The Effect of Covid-19 on Photo Merchandise Purchases
One of the barriers to photo product ordering is just finding the time to do it, especially for more involved projects such as a photo book. It is not just the product creation process itself but also the time it takes to cull through photos to pick out the images to use in a project.
Consequently, with more time at home due to lockdowns or quarantining from Covid-19, some consumers used that extra time to finish projects or get around to ordering products they had put off. This was evident in the survey results. Around 35% of those who bought more said they did so because they had “more time to start new projects.” In addition, 34% said they did so because they had “more time to finish existing projects.”
Furthermore, the methods that consumers use to buy photo merchandise were also impacted by Covid-19. The migration from in-store orders to online orders has been happening over the last several years. However, the pandemic accelerated that trend.
With some retail stores limiting the number of people in the store during the pandemic and lockdown orders in many states keeping people at home, more consumers naturally turned to online ordering. Even among those who could go into a retail store, it is likely that many were hesitant to touch a kiosk screen. In the survey, about 40% said they were “buying more online now than at a retail store.”
Changes in Photo Merchandise Purchase Habits from Covid-19
The longer the pandemic goes on, the more likely it is that consumer habits brought about by the pandemic will remain. As of this writing, the growth of the pandemic is on the decline. However, it is still going to be with us for quite some time, and some elements of our daily lives may never get completely back to normal.
We asked survey respondents how they expect the impact from Covid-19 to continue into 2021. Since the pandemic was still running rampant at the time of the survey in late 2020, it is no surprise that around 68% of respondents said they expect any changes (if there were any) because of Covid-19 to continue into 2021.
Interestingly, the change in buying behaviors did not necessarily lead to changes in the vendors that consumers use. We believe in most cases consumers would keep using the vendors they were already using, but perhaps just use the online site instead of the store. We have seen that for the most part, the photo vendors that were popular in 2020 are the same ones that were the top vendors for years.
Walmart was the top source for both photo cards and wall décor in our survey; Shutterfly was the most popular for photo books.
One vendor worth watching is Amazon Prints. They have quickly made the top three lists for photo books, photo cards and photo wall décor. The popularity of the Amazon Prime program (which according to some estimates had around 126 million members in the U.S. in late 2020) is certainly a factor in their success; Prime members get unlimited, full-resolution photo storage, plus 5GB of video storage.
Bullish on the Market
At Rise Above Research, we are bullish about the potential for continued success in the photo merchandise market, even as the pandemic continues. These products have sentimental and emotional value. For those reasons they make great gifts that are also a great value for the money, especially during trying times when consumers may be cutting back on spending in other areas.
A positive result that could come out of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it may lead to a better appreciation of the value of printed photos. Sharing photos and photo products are now more important during the pandemic, when we are not able to see family and friends as much.
There are many products to choose from that are for the most part easy to create and order. And there are also a variety of vendors. What’s more, most vendors offer online websites as well as mobile apps.
In addition, those who buy photo merchandise products are generally happy with the quality of their product and the vendor they ordered it from. Most important, a majority of them plan to go back and order again, and many plan to spend more on their next order. There is also a significant level of interest among younger people and first-time buyers.
Keep It Fresh
With all that the photo products market has going for it, it takes a lot of work on the part of photo vendors to be successful. They must keep thinking of new ways to update or freshen products, to keep people interested and coming back. They must also continue to target key growth segments, like first-time buyers and younger people, without losing core customers.
In the era of Covid-19, keeping customers may involve ramping up online ordering capabilities and options. In the case of retail stores, it means making customers comfortable in the store. This may involve marketing efforts that center around the cleaning of touch points in the photo center. Perhaps that need to offer drive-thru or curbside pickup options.
For more information on the Rise Above Research study, visit riseaboveresearch.com/reports.