The photo personalized products market has been in the business news these days, and not always in positive ways. Layoffs by major retailers and the closure of online photo sites by some major brick-and-mortar retailers have captured the headlines recently. While all this does make for water-cooler talk, it also sends a disconcerting message to the marketplace.
What is happening to the photo personalization category?
Simply, shopping habits have changed and retailers are adapting. Photo printing was once seen as a traffic-building category. Back in the days of film, mass retailers installed one-hour photo processing machines to keep customers in the store. In the shift to digital, many retailers replaced their analog printing equipment with dry kiosks. Gifts, prints, and personalized products, which can be made in a retail store, also require considerable space and trained staff. Over time, much of that print volume has moved from in-store to online. Eventually, some retailers re-evaluated their staffing requirements and market positions and decided to refocus on other categories. Businesses make these choices over time.
Looking at some of the retailers getting out of online photo printing, you see major retail names, which can set off alarm bells. But in reality, in terms of their photo business, they were not giant players.
The brick-and-mortar retailers who do well with the photo printing and gifting category devote resources to each phase of the customer journey, from customer acquisition to in-store merchandising to staff training and fulfillment. A breakdown in one of these areas can quickly lead to a decline in sales volume and customer satisfaction.
So, while some select retailers are choosing to redeploy resources, the overall category is performing well. As Rise Above Research reports, 1.6 trillion images will be captured this year, and many of those are print-fulfillment opportunities. The key is for retailers – primarily niche websites and app developers – to hone their message to specific customers.
The mass market has made way for niche personalized products.
Consumers expect their online shopping experience to be customized from beginning to end. The photography market has led the way in this regard, as every printed photo is a unique personalized document.
Digital photo printing technology has expanded beyond memories and has opened new opportunities in distinct vertical markets. New dye-sublimation printers, for example, can print on objects up to 11 inches in height, opening new avenues for dimensional printing on balls, wood, metal, and many other items. Personalized products are allowing marketers and brands to explore beyond basic merchandising tactics and instead utilize them to establish brand loyalty and generate profits in new markets.
Now-available niche markets for personalized products:
Pets – There are few things more important to a family than their pets. Whether it's a cat fancier or a dog person, pet owners dote on their fur babies. The growth of pet-related personalized products has opened a tremendous opportunity for pet owners; every major photo personalization company now features a pet-products section. Personalization opportunities for pets are endless; not only can pet owners display their pet's portrait on their walls, their clothing, on calendars, on mugs, on dishes, and so on, but they can also customize food and drink bowls, pet clothing, ID tags, and more for their furry companions. It really is up to the imagination of the user.
Nearly 70% of US households own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), with 2020 pet industry expenditures projected to be $99 billion . Most of that spending will be on food, medicine and veterinary care, but the APPA still estimates "Other Services" including toys, clothing, etc., will be more than $10 billion in 2020. More than one-third of Millennials are pet owners , an increase from their baby-boomer forebears, according to Forbes .
Sports and leisure activities – The market for personalized products for sports gear continues to grow, encompassing everything from photo golf balls to individual fan graphics. Pro sports are filling their empty arenas with life-size photos of their fans. Sports teams are even using this as an opportunity to connect fans – safely, of course – to their favorite venues. For example, the San Francisco 49ers football team is offering limited edition fan cut-outs for home games, with the proceeds going to charity.
Memorials and remembrances - Photos are important for remembering the passing of a loved one. Displays of family snapshots at funeral homes have given way to full-on multimedia slideshows, photobooks, and posters . Even tombstones can be personalized with a photo to permanently commemorate a life.
For other types of events like milestone birthdays, retirements, etc., new opportunities surface for drinkware, dishes, and decorations.
Weddings and parties – Most photographic expenditures related to a wedding are conducted during and after the event. Now, with personalized photo products, the opportunity starts with the engagement announcement. Couples are sending out personalized save-the-date cards and invitations, as well as customized decorations. Bridal party gifts, table favors, and place cards make the day-of celebration special. Personalized thank-you notes round out the event.
In conclusion, while the recent news of layoffs and closures in the photo personalization market may be concerning, it is important to recognize that this is merely a reflection of the changing shopping habits of consumers. As retailers continue to adapt and re-evaluate their market positions, the photo personalization market remains strong, with many new opportunities emerging. By catering to niche markets and leveraging the unique possibilities offered by digital photo printing technology, personalized products have the potential to help brands and marketers build stronger relationships with customers and drive profits. As consumers increasingly expect personalized experiences in their online shopping, the photo personalization market is well-positioned to continue to thrive and grow in the coming years.
About the Guest Contributor
This post was graciously written by guest contributor, Gary Pageau . Gary is the principal of InfoCircle LLC, continuing his marketing communications career. InfoCircle LLC is a marketing and communications consulting firm, specializing in business-to-business markets. For nearly 25 years, he was with PMA International, serving most recently as Publisher, Content Development, and Strategic Initiatives. His primary responsibilities included overseeing the Association's editorial department, marketing research unit, education, and corporate relations department.