Friday, February 27, 2009
Money While You Sleep: E-Commerce For Professional Photographers
Web 2.0 means every kind of photo business can and should be online
Even among the online service providers and the pros who utilize them, the consensus remains that robust e-commerce solutions aren’t a total replacement for real-world customer service—they’re simply an ideal way to augment a photographer’s offerings and capabilities while improving the experience for both the customer and the photographer. Web 2.0 is a new space in which to conduct business. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved—as long as the photographers remember to maintain their relationships the old-fashioned way as well.
Larry Abitbol, president of Bay Photo, advises photographers to treat their online presence the way his lab does: keep it grounded in the traditional business practices of high quality and good customer service. “At our core, we’re still a traditional photo lab,” he says, “but we’re loaded with technology for a digital world. The Internet won’t take photos for you; your success is due to your photographic and business talent. Selling online may work extremely well and be appealing to you, or you may prefer a more face-to-face approach, or both. That’s one of the beauties of being a photographer in this century: your options are so broad.”
Bay Photo client Kubota mirrors Abitbol’s advice, noting that the web can do a lot, but it will never do it all. “Photography is still largely about relationships and people skills,” Kubota says. “We can’t ever forget that. When we start to rely on [the web] as our sole source of sales, or because we’re too impatient, shy or insecure to meet and sell in person, then it can be a detriment rather than a complement.”
How It Works
There are as many variations to online ordering and fulfillment as there are websites and labs. Since photographers come in all shapes and sizes, so do online printing and fulfillment services. The most exciting option for many may be the “sit back and collect a check” variety, which may seem too good to be true, but in fact exists and is relished by photographers who love the nature of the fully automatic service.
Other photographers want to retain control over some, or all, aspects of ordering and fulfillment. In many cases, both types of photographers can find a home with a single web service provider since so many offer customizable systems. Some services offer ordering that simply connects a photographer to his or her preferred lab. These services allow for precise adjustments to files during the ordering process—minimizing mistakes and enabling adjustments to everything from cropping to color balance.
SimplePhoto offers both fully automatic and controlled service options. A photographer who wants to maintain oversight of how and where products are ordered and created would choose a Photographer Driven Account. The photographer connects an existing website to a SimplePhoto storefront that’s branded to match his or her own. After shooting, the photographer then uploads files and can sell any product he or she likes via the fully customizable shopping cart—literally any product because orders can be fulfilled in-house by the photographer or his or her preferred lab.
Customers place web orders that are sent where the photographer has specified—back to him or her or directly to a lab. (Not only do photographers have the option of fulfilling the order themselves, but they can choose to have the order sent directly to their existing lab or to the SimplePhoto MarketPlace lab.) The photographer retains control by having finished orders shipped back for quality control, or he or she can save time and expense by drop-shipping completed orders directly from the lab to the customer. Drop-shipping means there are no lab-specific markings on the packaging to maintain the photographer’s identity. Customers hopefully pass along links to the photographer’s gallery so that additional orders come in and the cycle repeats.
For photographers who don’t want to oversee every step of the process, SimplePhoto offers Managed Accounts. As the service touts, “You shoot. We do the rest.” The process is the same, but the photographer’s direct input is minimized. After shooting and uploading, clients place orders that go directly to the MarketPlace lab for fulfillment and drop-shipping. All the photographer does is wait for payments to arrive—freeing him or her up to spend more time doing things he or she likes to do, like taking pictures.
There are enough options that any photographer can find the perfect match. From do it yourself to do nothing at all, the future of online ordering and printing has arrived.
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