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Monday September 27 2010

imageI recently spent quite a bit of time researching possible new cameras on the internet, and ever since I did that, all the adverts I seem to see on the internet are adverts for Jessops, featuring exactly the cameras I had been looking at.  At first, I just thought that Jessops seemed to be doing a lot of advertising on the internet, as in “the” internet.  But pretty soon the penny dropped.  It was merely my internet they were advertising on.

I have rather mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, yes, these are products that do interest me.  But on the other, they have wormed their way into my computer to contrive this effect.  Not sure I like that.  I associate such worming with the fact that my computer now suffers regular bouts of extreme cludginess, only cured by flicking the off switch and restarting it.

Also, part of the impact of regular billboards-in-the-street posters-in-the-tube type adverts is that they are obviously spending lots of money trying to impress me.  Therefore, they must be quite confident about their products.  They are putting their money where their mouth is.  But how much are they paying just to put these adverts in front of little old me?  Maybe not much at all.  Instead of being truly impressed with these products, Jessops could just be trying it on.  By the time I get their, they could be completely out of business.

The windows at the front of the Jessops nearest to me look pathetic.  Full of junk like tripods, and big printouts of pictures of the Wheel, advertising their ability to sell you big printouts of your pictures.  Actual cameras have become much more rare in the window, and their stock of cameras anywhere in shop is dwindling.  You suspect that the ones they do still have on sale may still be owned by the companies that made them.  None of which inspires confidence.

I’d be very surprised if the “regular bouts of extreme cludginess” have anything to do with the advertising.  The way this tends to work is that when you visit, say, photography websites, the adverts on them are loaded from a central ad server, and you get a cookie. When you visit other websites that use the same ad server, it sees the cookie, and serves up adverts based on sites you have visited before.

You might find that deleting all your cookies stops the adverts.

The clunkiness probably has another cause that your local computer expert might be able to discern in person.

I suspect Jessops is struggling due the tendency of people to go into Jessops to try out a new camera and then walk out of the store and buy it online at a hefty discount. The solution to this probably doesn’t involve shops like Jessops staying as they are. I wonder if it might involve other electronics companies doing what Apple have done with their stores.

Posted by Rob Fisher on 28 September 2010

I used to love Jessops when I was a student in the mid 1990s. They had friendly and knowledgeable staff (unlike places like Dixons), were willing to order me anything I wanted, and had much cheaper prices than specialist, non-chain camera stores.

Now though, they suffer from the standard problem of pre-digital camera stores, which is that the stores were opened based on the idea that most of the money was going to be made charging people for film processing and developing, which was a wonderful, high margin business that paid for lots of floor space that could be filled with cameras, lenses and other stuff that was basically a loss leader to get people into the store.

In the current age, they have been hit even harder than specialty electronics retailers. The hardware business has moved onto the internet, but this business was generally not even profitable before the internet came along. The business that made Jessops profitable has vanished entirely.

(As well as “vanished onto the internet”, the specialty retailers have been hit by the steady diversification of general retailers such as Tesco, Asda, and Argos into electronics and other fields as well. People who do not buy on the internet are now more likely to buy a camera or print photos in the supermarket than at Jessops).

Modern “photography” shops are different, and in particular are in much smaller spaces (with much lower rents) than Jessops and employ much fewer staff. They do printing and sell cheap digital point and shoot cameras and accessories. Serious and semi-serious photographers buy their stuff over the internet or at a small number of high end extreme-specialist shops. The business model is different, and transforming a business from an old model to a new model is always very hard. (Just try to get the staff to agree to it).

Seven or eight years ago, Jessops opened a few “Techno digital” stores, devoted entirely to digital photography, which sold digital cameras, media PCs, digital photo frames, and a few other things. The branding was such that “Jessops” was in small type. They couldn’t really get it to work, though, at least partly because these were the only parts of their business that were not shrinking, so the existing businesses were coming to superficially resemble the newer ones and the justification for making the new ones different was vanishing , even when at a very fundamental level they needed to be different.

Doing what Apple have done with their stores is hard. Both Nokia and Microsoft have opened stores that have attempted to be more or less exact clones of Apple stores. I have visited a couple of these, and they are seemingly deserted at all times, whereas Apple’s stores are packed with people. (Sony Stores don’t look anything like Apple stores, but they also seem to be deserted at all times). Apple are also extraordinary at running stores that never put any pressure on anyone to buy anything, ever, and yet sell more stuff per square foot than virtually any other retailer, anywhere. There is something fucking ineffable (to coin a phrase) about what Apple do, and nobody else seems to be able to copy it.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 28 September 2010

By the way, regular billboards-in-the-street posters-in-the-tube type advertising is going to be precisely aimed at you Real Soon Now. You may or may not like it, but you are not going to stop it from happening.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703369704575461462071622330.html

Posted by Michael Jennings on 28 September 2010

Michael has been reading too much XKCD: that’s where he got his coined phrase from. It is a very apt phrase, though. I had previously assumed Apple Stores were just a way to let everyone play with Apple stuff so that they want to buy it, which they then go and do online. That the stores are hugely profitable in their own right was surprising to me; how they succeed where others fail is certainly ineffable.

Posted by Rob Fisher on 28 September 2010

I look forward to the divorce case that brings up as evidence in court, the cookie trail of a cheating husband around the Underground (Jessops ads on the up escalator at Holborn, and 35 minutes later on the down escalator and so on).

God help the people who have cookies from fetish porn sites.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 29 September 2010

It is a worry, Antoine. For now at least, browsers have Private Browsing (aka porn mode—it’s not *really* for buying your better half an anniversary present).

Posted by Rob Fisher on 29 September 2010
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