There is no arguing that we as a society have moved to use our MOBILE devices in many aspects of our lives including online commerce. We have been selling both online pre-pay and proof programs in schools and sports for years. It has increased our sales. It saves time and labor, especially all the issues in manual credit and debit card transactions. A year ago the same site was updated to recognize mobile devices and scale according to the device. It was a boom for our sales. We see many orders placed just shortly before, during or after an event. Without this capability, these would have been lost sales.
Do I need to sell digital files first or packages first?
The choice is up to you. I have found best practice is to sell packages first. Remember, once the customer has the digital file they can use it where ever they want and when ever they want. You lose control over the revenue stream. If you sell a package first you get the revenue and profit from the package sale and then you get the additional revenue and profit from the digital file when offered as a second, additional sale. You may consider selling packages with a digital download included for a premium price as option to get customers to buy up.
When I sell digital files in a package, how many people actually go to download them?
In looking at our own numbers and talking to some other photographers and labs here is what I heard. When packages are sold that DO NOT include digital files, the add-on digital file sale rate is between 10% to 12%. That is less than 2 people who said they wanted the digital file, are satisfied without it after getting their print package. That number is growing when digital files are included with packages. How many people ACTUALLY DOWNLOAD them is another matter.
What is the tradeoff between a limited initial sale period and making your images available forever with no urgency to buy up front?
You have heard the old saying out of sight out of mind, the same applies in online sales. Selling online is a convenience to the customer. I am NOT looking for a way to create a way to defer payment for a period of time. I have a business to run and employees that want to be paid now. The other interesting fact is on that on all those free books from companies like Shutterfly, Snapfish etc. the abandonment rate (books not redeemed or order started but not finished) is over 80%. So in the online sales environment most people will not go back to reorder additional products. In fact most photographers look at online sales after original picture day as “found” money. Unfortunately, if the customer is not motivated to purchase immediately those orders must be handled as a late, single orders. And ultimately cost significantly more for you to handle between the work done in the studio and ordering a single package. In my mind those late orders need to be higher priced than original day pre-pay or proof sales because they are costing more to fulfill. Even Amazon is constantly looking at fulfillment cost and either charging more or dropping products that don’t cycle a high number of times.
It sounds like Shutterfly is really working to drive families to move their school pictures to their Shutterfly account. How does this affect the school and how does this affect the independent school photographer?
Shutterfly has stated that their goal for the acquisition of Lifetouch was to move those 15 million families’ EMAIL addresses into the Shutterfly eco system to market their products to those families. The most powerful strategy they have is to get those images into storage on the Shutterfly site every year a student is photographed. In order to do that Lifetouch has priced digital downloads at approximately $15 for one image and $22 for multiple images. But how does this affect the affect the school? It is true that Shutterfly offers the school 8% of sales, 8X10’s are at most approximate $3 each. So, mom buys her digital for $15.00 dollars. The school may get commission on that or may not. Then moves it over to Shutterfly and buys 4 units (4X3=$12) School gets roughly 96 cents as opposed to what ever percentage of your most popular package. (hmm… I wonder how many school administrators have done the math on that?) How does it affect the the photographer? Do we really want to train customers to buy a digital file for $15 and take it where ever they want instead of buying our most popular package? In my case, “NO”! Some people say but the consumer wants to buy it that way, and that may be true. I want to buy a Tesla that’s $80k but I only want to pay $50k for it. Do you think they are going to sell me the car for that? Of course not! They control their market and business practices, our industry should be no different.
How can I improve the experience of families in school and sports pictures?
I would suggest better photography, poses and product offerings. If you get a great image that is lit great, posed well and has some updated boarder or template they will sell. Our labs are getting better at updating volume templates and products but many are offer the stuff that we offered since the 70’s without refreshing the looks.
When should I photograph one image (where I can get through a volume shoot very quickly and efficiently) and when should I photograph multiple poses (which offers more selection but takes longer)?
I think that is between you and your customer based on the amount of time and logistics that presented by the school or league that is hiring you. Obviously, parents like choice. And we try to give that to them based on multi-pose or multi-crop of the same image for a different look. But I have had some schools tell me we are not running a photo studio here, you need to one photo and get to the next student. If they have the time or the room for additional cameras so you can accommodate that you can offer it. But remember, every time you add a camera to shoot you have really added cost that must be paid out.