The future of retail lies not in selling products but in building a platform on which consumers can share their passion. CEO Ben Cornelisse describes the unique retail model of Kamera Express.
From A to Z
Photo and video specialist Kamera Express, founded 25 years ago in a 300 sq m garage, has become a mature omnichannel player with 21 physical stores in four countries. During the crisis, the retailer saw the share of online sales increase to 80 per cent, while turnover remained stable. Its recipe for success? Approaching the customer digitally and as personal as possible through building a community, says CEO Ben Cornelisse. He first joined the company in 2001 as a 20-year-old student and has since become co-owner of the business.
“We have realised that differentiating in terms of capacity in retail is actually very limited. A company like Coolblue – which I think is a wonderful company – actually does the same as a MediaMarkt: they concentrate on selling products. We don’t think that is where the future of retail lies. Whether it’s online or offline: in the long run, you have to offer more than just products or service – because, to me, offering service is simply part of selling products. It’s just doing your job well. We want to be the king of our niche. And, within that niche, we serve our customers from A to Z.”
For Kamera Express, the biggest part of the job starts after the sale: “We don’t just want to sell products, but also tell people how to use them. We excel in this advisory role. We have set up an online Kamera Express Academy: when you buy a Sony camera from us, it comes with a masterclass and a video tutorial explaining everything step by step. We also organise themed weeks to inspire our customers. And if you want to be king of the niche, rental is part of the deal. With us, you can try out a 3,000 euro lens first, and when you buy it, you get the rental fee back. Or you could just rent the lens for your holidays, for example.”
And it doesn’t stop there: “Because when you have made beautiful images, what do you do with them? The main purpose of photography and video is to produce and share. That, in turn, has a contagious effect, which hopefully appeals to a new target group. That is the holy grail of our concept. That is why we also have a lab producing photo albums, wall art and prints at a high-quality level. We take the consumer on a journey, and we don’t let them go. That makes us not just a retailer but a partner of some sort, forming a community of photographers. That is what makes our retail model unique.”
Time for the customer
The physical stores play a vital role in the customer’s journey, not only as a pick-up and service point but also as a meeting place. “We have set up our store in such a way that we have more time for our customer. At our store, you can’t just take a product off the shelf and take it to checkout; every sale takes place with the assistance of an employee. People like to be shown their expensive purchases in person and try them out – and this human interaction remains an important aspect. Photography is emotional. A lot is involved in a sales conversation. Our stores act as a kind of clubhouse where people hang out for a while. We always have good coffee available. And we also use the store to showcase our printing services: you can order a photo album or wall art online, but you still want to be able to see what it looks like.”
The retailer resolutely goes for a ‘long tail’ approach: “We are the specialist, we don’t just have the best ten models, but the best hundred in cameras, the best 200 in lenses, the best 300 in tripods… That broad assortment strategy catches on. Our stores are easily 300 to 400 sq m, to display all that beautiful gear, whereas conventional photo stores have 50 to 100 sq m.”
The prime target group of Kamera Express is actively engaged in photography. These are people who do not limit themselves to holiday pictures. The target group is rapidly growing, partly thanks to Instagram. “Smartphone photography has made photography more accessible for everyone. Customers who want more do, do their research and come to us. We started selling more cameras because of it. Every serious influencer works with expensive camera equipment. People often underestimate that.”
Funnily enough, the Covid crisis was not really a game-changer for Kamera Express. “Of course, it was very intense, but we are truly omnichannel from the core: online and offline are fully integrated. Our store staff were behind the computer in no time, video chatting with customers. This way, we could continue to fulfil our advisory role digitally. Our online sales went through the roof, and our NPS has never been higher than during the Covid crisis. However, it was also dramatic because costs went through the roof, traffic was down, and the impact on professional photographers was huge: they were out of work. Also, consumers stopped travelling – that’s when you invest in new equipment. After the summer, we saw it pick up again quickly. We didn’t lose any sales.”
The retailer was able to react quickly, and it paid off: “After the initial lockdown, we made our Kamera Express Academy available for free to inspire people. We also created Covid-specific content: what can I do with photography at home, how do I get the best lighting with my webcam? We published editing courses, blogs, vlogs, etc. We would not have dreamed it would catch on so quickly. The number of ‘students’ rose by 12,000 to 80,000. Inspiration and education coincided.” The result? A 65 per cent increase in turnover in just three weeks…
What plans does the CEO have now? “This year, we want to pick up our expansion again – last year it came to a standstill. We now have 13 stores in the Netherlands, five in Belgium and four more on the way, particularly in the French-speaking part of the country. We have one store in Luxembourg, and in Germany, we want to grow from two to ten stores in the coming years. Eventually, we might have 20 to 30 stores there. We also want to expand our 360° concept further: we believe in building a community platform where users can interact with other users. A digital clubhouse where you can ask questions, exchange experiences, a place where we can set up competitions, where we can set challenges for people, and more. That will be the focus in the coming years.”