Printing Press: Retail Photo Printing in Post-Pandemic America

Printing Press: Retail Photo Printing in Post-Pandemic America


Ask any market analyst what aspect of business development was most critical to surviving the economic effects of Covid-19, retail photo printing or otherwise, and they’ll likely say it was digital transformation.

In April 2020, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivered the company’s first quarterly Covid-era earnings report. “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. From remote teamwork and learning to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security; we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in a world of remote everything,” he observed.

Moreover, global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company noted similar findings just months into the lockdown. The firm published a consumer impact study that described the acceleration of online functions by both small and large businesses as spanning a “decade in days.”

In addition, companies that supported remote, in-home workers were forced to implement or expand digital communications and sharing technologies. This ranged from virtual desktops and cloud-based storage to unified communication platforms and virtual Zoom meetings. All to keep their businesses up and running. At the same time, homebound consumers learned to substitute conventional shopping trips with online ordering and delivery.

Revaluating Brand Loyalty during Lockdown

According to McKinsey’s May 2021 survey, U.S. Consumer Sentiment During the Coronavirus Crisis: “Retail categories with higher online penetration before Covid-19 saw a dramatic increase in percent spent online during April’s shelter-in-place rules; growing from 37% penetration before Covid-19 to over 80% at its highest. While penetration went down during the second half of 2020, it has remained at a higher level than before Covid-19; online penetration in January 2021 was at 48%.”

retail photo printing Photo-Kiosks-McKinsey-Chart
Global business consulting firm McKinsey & Company noted a dramatic rise in e-commerce activity during the pandemic.

The McKinsey survey also found that during the 2020 lockdowns, consumers started to reevaluate brand loyalty; instead they started focusing on convenience and value. “Of the three-quarters of Americans who changed their shopping behavior since Covid-19 began, around 40% say they have changed brands, with the level of brand switching doubling in 2020 compared to 2019 . . . Convenience and value were the main drivers of shopping behavior change; however, quality and seeking brands that match with their values also inspired change for about 40% of younger consumers.”

The majority of consumers surveyed said they were planning to continue some of their digital behaviors after Covid-19. This includes conveniences like restaurant curbside pickup, digital health-and-wellness visits and buying products online.

Retail Photo Printing

How did the lockdown impact photo printing specifically? According to industry consultants David Haueter and Ed Lee of Rise Above Research, there was a significant shift in how consumers ordered prints in 2020. Based on their recent consumer survey, The U.S. Photo Print Market After Covid-19, 26% of respondents who ordered photo prints during the pandemic said they printed less at retail stores, compared to 16% who printed more. Of the customers who ordered prints online, 56% said they preferred having their prints mailed; this compares to 41% who preferred picking them up at retail.

The Rise Above Research study, presented in May at Pro Imaging Connect 2021, determined that Covid-19 led to an 18% drop in print volume during 2020. While the market is expected to bounce back, it is not expected to return to 2019 levels. The authors predicted it will stay relatively flat after 2022; and the online-to-mail share of the market will take volume away from in-store retail photo printing.

However, other trends revealed in the study were not completely negative for retailers. Of the customers who had the option of either receiving online orders by mail or picking them up at retail, about half (mostly younger customers) chose to pick them up at retail. More than a third (35%) of respondents who hadn’t previously printed at retail said they were interested in doing so post-pandemic, especially with safety precautions like touch-free kiosks.

Big-Box Retailers Led the Way to Online

The consumer migration toward online printing began long before the arrival of Covid-19. Many non-photo retailers like Sam’s Club, Target and Costco began to close down their in-house printing and kiosk services over the last several years. Instead, they encouraged customers to order prints and gifts through their corporate websites.

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Office Depot is one of many non-photo retailers replacing in-store retail photo printing with more robust online sales.

CVS, Walmart and Walgreens have continued to offer one-hour printing services; however, most locations closed down or limited public access to their photo kiosks last year. All three retailers are now offering one-hour “Pickup in Store” services for prints, posters and a small selection of gift products through online printing services like Snapfish and MailPix.

Photo Retailers Adapt

Major photo retailers like Adorama (Printique), Ritz (RitzPix) and Unique Photo have offered online printing, along with their behind-the-counter retail photo printing lab services, for years.

Unique Photo operates two brick-and-mortar locations—one in Fairfield, New Jersey, and another in Philadelphia. It recently began transitioning from an online printing partnership with LifePics to offering its own online service.

The Unique Photo Lab website is in Beta. It promises new features to make the ordering process more streamlined. Unique customers will be able to upload, store, edit and order prints all in one place without leaving the website. They’ll also have the ability to save projects and come back to work on them after the orders are completed.

retail photo printing Photo-Kiosks-Unique-Photo
Unique Photo is expanding its online lab service with new products.

Furthermore, lockdown hit regional and local retailers the hardest. National Camera Exchange (Golden Valley, Minnesota) had to close one of its two locations at the beginning of the pandemic. However, it continues to provide behind-the-counter and online sales and printing services. It also offers curbside pickup for those who want it. In-store printing kiosks are closed to the public. The website maintains a coronavirus update page, with information on store safety protocols, classes and events, as well as delivery options.

New Relevance in Touch-Free Technology

Prior to the pandemic, cloud-based and Internet of Things technologies had already delivered a growing assortment of new products embedded with sensors and software to improve operating efficiency. Motion- and voice-controlled solutions like sensor-activated lights, windows and appliances were seen as luxury items in most homes and offices. However, with Covid-19, the need for maintaining a more sterile, contact-free environment helped galvanize consumer acceptance of these pre-Covid technologies.

“In response, equipment and technology providers introduced an unprecedented number of solutions to allow users to interact with technology more safely,” said Elliot Maras, editor of Kiosk Marketplace and Vending Times. “The end result is a new age of smart technology that offers solution providers endless opportunities to improve business operations and provide more rewarding user experiences.”

Maras’s interview with Sean Park, sales manager for the international team at SAM4S, a kiosk manufacturer based in Seoul, South Korea, touches on the technology used to make hands-free kiosks.

We’ve developed models in which the user can change the setting of the devices with near-field communication (NFC) technology,” said Park. NFC allows the user to wave a smartphone or tablet over a compatible device to send information; there is no need to touch the devices together or go through multiple steps setting up a connection.

Touch-Free Photo Kiosks

Kodak Moments introduced its first touch-free photo kiosk in November. It permits consumers to place their print orders at retail without coming in contact with the kiosk. Instead of tapping on the screen to place print orders, customers scan a QR code from the kiosk screen; or they can type a URL into their browsers. Consequently, they can complete the order process through their personal devices. Consumers can enter payment information directly into their phones after placing the orders. Store personnel can also handle payment in the traditional way.

Scott Robinson, director of strategic future products at Kodak Moments, said, “Covid-19 has caused everyone to rethink how they shop and interact with solutions in-store. We remain dedicated to finding the best ways to serve consumers on their preferred pathways; this update is another testament to that.”

The new Kodak Moments To Go technology is built into the company’s latest kiosks. However, the company can also retrofit it into existing Kodak Moments retail products.

Photo Booths Follow Suit

Photo kiosks are not the only consumer-operated print systems that provide touch-free access. Several photo booth companies now offer software that operates via voice command and/or QR code scanning. Snappic and Simple Booth both developed apps to operate with iPad photo booths. Breeze Systems (also known as DSLR Remote Pro) and Photo Booth Upload (PBU) are available for Windows and DSLR camera photo booths.

According to Booth Masters photo booth sales and rental service, running a touch-free or contactless photo booth experience is easy. “The guests hold a phone up to the photo booth camera, which reads a QR code and starts the session. The system automatically sends the captured images to guests using the information they provided.”

Consumer printing systems, like in-store photo kiosks and photo booths, are implementing touch-free solutions.

What’s more, Denver-based Kiosk Innovations developed two novel No-Touch solutions to mitigate the spread of a virus: Hand Gesture Navigation (Gesture-Nav) and Foot Controlled Navigation (Foot-Nav). Photo booth operators can mount either solutions on new or existing kiosks with a simple USB connection. The devices use simple up, down, forward, backward and enter keys for navigation.

In addition, Gesture-Nav has a sensor that recognizes five different directional hand gestures (up, down, right, left and enter). Foot-Nav uses foot controls to navigate through the same user interface.

“We have evaluated every possible touchless user interface available, as well as preventative mitigation, and after consulting with our customers we came to the overwhelming consensus that for navigation alternatives the most intuitive are gesture and foot navigation,” said Rick Freeman, senior vice president of Sales. “Users not only need to trust the interface as ‘clean,’ but the technology needs to be easily adopted.”

Planning for the Next Normal

“To respond effectively to the Covid-19 crisis, companies should consider making a deliberate effort to look beyond the immediate challenges and issues that the crisis creates,” advises McKinsey & Company. That means not only planning for the recovery period as businesses reopen but also planning long-term for the “next normal.” The McKinsey website features a June 8th video by Brian Gregg and Kelly Ungerman, Five Priorities for Rapid Revenue Recovery During Covid-19. Visit the “Live Webinar” page at

One of their recommendations is business re-imagination. “The current crisis has created an impetus for companies to reimagine their business models and quickly adapt their offerings and operations to temporary conditions like lockdowns, travel restrictions and workplace closures. They might begin by refreshing their understanding of customers’ expectations and needs and rethinking their value propositions in line with those priorities. Similarly, leaders can reconsider where they might find new sources of growth, beyond their current offerings.”

Kodak Moments To Go touch-free photo kiosks let consumers place orders through smart devices.

Kodak Moments also compiled a report, in cooperation with technology strategist partner diconium. It provides suggestions on how retailers can cope with a future of rapid change and uncertainty, as well as keep customers engaged in the digital sphere. It can be found here.

“Retail needs to become resilient to the constant uncertainty and disruptions of our modern world. Its role is to provide the stability and normality people desperately seek by delivering a sense of connection, support and well-being,” writes Marcus Worbs, managing director of diconium. “Achieving relevance means to provide everything as a service.

“Lean into your blind spots as well as your bright spots. Lean into the next normal of retail. Now more than ever, it’s the time to be an innovator.”