Cashing In On the Long Tail

Cashing In On the Long Tail

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For a year now, our industry has been hearing about the “Long Tail”. Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine made his Long Tail theory relevant to the digital imaging industry at the PMA show last year.

In essence it boils down to this: you can’t put all your eggs into one basket. With digital you have the potential to provide multiple products with unlimited shelf space. Thus for photofinishing retailers, sales don’t begin and end with the 4×6 print. They don’t even begin and end with the camera itself. It’s the sale of all types of products that keep the store in the black.

To cash in on the long tail, you have to offer anything your customer wants to create through digital imaging – be it a scrapbook or photo book, a photo coaster or a photo mug, or even folded greeting cards or wedding invitations. You’ve got to do it all.

Lucidiom analyzed statistics from its EQ printer in 2007 to see what retailers were printing for their customers. Retailers created a strong core of 14 products – from photo books to flip books to greeting cards and typically printed most of these leading products equally throughout the year, but in November and December, the demand for photo books, folded cards and bound calendars peaked, with sales of those items for January leveling back off to fall in line with other 11 leaders. Lucidiom’s statistics show that similar spikes occur due to seasonal trends, although to a lesser degree than the changes noted during the holidays, such as with wedding products in preparation for spring.

When taken individually, long tail products aren’t necessarily your top sellers. But when you look at them collectively, they make up more of your profits than your current bestseller. The photo book is not the savior of the industry, as these statistics reveal. When you graph product sales, the visual representation looks like a long tail, with the variety of new digital products making up the length of that graphical tail. Thus in order to drive more profits at retail, instead of searching for that single killer product, you need to lengthen that graphical tail by adding more products overall.

But how do you lengthen the tail and still keep your wits about you? How do you make all these products easy for your customers to find so that they will actually buy them?

Just like a department store segments itself, the photo retailer needs to segment his store – both in the store and online. The men’s clothes are not lumped in with housewares in the department store. The same logic applies for the photo retailer.

Have a sport-oriented clientele? Seize the start of the football season this fall to create a display of all the sports-oriented items you have in one place. Put out sample photo frames with player photos inside. Create football-themed layouts and photo books. Teach local teams how to make football cards and team posters. Show sports-themed gifts to give the coach and players at the end of the season.

Repeat that process to organize photo prints and gifts by other categories: travel, baby, wedding, birthday, anniversary, holidays, etc. And don’t forget to not only apply that process to your store but also to your Web site and to your promotional literature. By highlighting what you offer in a category, you’ll help your customer find what she wants without overwhelming her.

Lucidiom found that kiosk-generated photo gift orders went up 478 percent last year. But key to that gifting increase is that savvy retailers were making it easy for their customers to find the gift that best matched their needs. They didn’t crowd the store with thousands of gift choices lining the walls. They accented the ones that fit their clientele best and showcased them with sample projects to help jumpstart their customers’ creative juices.

On the back-end, you need a business system in place so that you can make these products quickly and easily for your customers and can order gifts from vendors with as close to one-stop shopping as you can get. Your customer orders – be they Web-generated or store-generated – need to integrate seamlessly with your print and gifting management system. Your focus needs to be on the customer and getting her through the door – not on how to jump through a hundred hoops to get a photo mug ordered.

Lastly, the long tail should never stop growing. Does your department store keep the same inventory year after year? Does it even have the exact same inventory month after month? No. You have to keep your inventory fresh. Stay on the lookout for new products to bring into your store. With digital, nearly anything anyone wants printed can be done, and often it only takes a little imagination to use your in-store printing equipment to create a whole new category of products.

Do you have a glue binder? You can make personalized notepads for customers. Do you have a banner printer? You can make student locker art. Do you have a photo book printer and a house to sell? Use it to create real estate sales books.

Create your own exclusive templates for local teams and organizations. Get to know your community events. Work with a designer to make university-logo or high-school-themed scrapbook pages and photo books. Students could even make personal yearbooks with their photos by using your exclusive templates and your photo book printer. Once you have the templates, you can expand beyond photo books to notepads, wall art or thousands of other photo gifts.

Cashing in on the long tail becomes intuitive once you have the system in place. You can offer it all, become a photo creative expert, and reap hefty profits. yy

Rick Glomb is VP of Business Development, Lucidiom Inc., and Chair, Digital Imaging Division, Consumer Electronics Association.

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