After COVID-19 forced the closure of its two stores, Brisbane photography retailer CameraPro has taken its personal approach to sales online, offering would-be customers a store-style shopping experience via video chat.
Founded in 2007, CameraPro caters to a market of professionals and enthusiasts, predominantly selling a high-end range of products both in-store and online.
Already, customer engagement was a big part of the business, founder Jesse Hunter tells SmartCompany.
“I was a one-man show online and delivering directly to customers in my own car 12 years ago,” he says.
Now, as well as having two showrooms focused on individual interaction with clients, the business offers courses and webinars, building a community of camera-lovers.
Hunter had actually been considering introducing a video-shopping service for some time already, he says.
In order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he made both his physical stores click-and-collect. And, at the same time, he realised it was time to get the new service off the ground.
“We made the decision pretty quickly,” he says.
“I briefed the team on Monday, and we had it up and running on the Wednesday.”
It was quick innovation, but as a store specialising in camera equipment, Hunter had all the equipment available to him and ready to go, as well as the know-how to get things going.
Through the website, customers can set up a video call with a team member, who can show them the physical product they’re interested in, explain the main features, and answer any questions.
The idea is to give people a personalised, in-store experience, even from the comfort of isolation.
“It gives customers a much better grip of what they’re purchasing than just looking on a website,” Hunter explains.
“Doing our best”
The scheme is part of Hunter’s strategy to keep the business afloat, and most of his employees on board. Of his 35 staff members, he’s had to let two go so far.
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The rest, he’s trying to re-deploy to “future revenue-generating projects”, he says,
Many of the team members are photographers, who have been charged with creating new content for the business. Others are now leading webinars and online training sessions.
“We’re still building the plan, but we’ve already actively made some very significant, quick changes and created some new initiatives to keep people on board,” Hunter says.
“We’ve certainly been doing our best.”
As of yet, the founder doesn’t have figures to show how the new service has translated into sales. As sales still go through the same platform, it’s hard to know which customers have had an e-chat, and which haven’t.
“We haven’t yet been able to attribute the breakdown of what sales volume has been driven from that specific medium,” he explains.
But, the team has had a lot of “anecdotal positive feedback”.
In fact, customers are also reaching out and asking for personalised service support, for example, asking for walk-throughs for upgrading their firmware.
For Hunter, it’s more about maintaining a relationship with clients during this time, and offering a positive experience.
“That’s probably been the single core focus of the business from the beginning,” he says.
The business isn’t run with what Hunter calls a “transactional culture”.
Rather, the team is trained to work with customers, to follow up with them, and not to push any one product over another. Already, transactions typically include multiple chats and multiple channels, and customers are invited to take part in training sessions and events to help them hone their skills later.
“Customer experience and customer service has been a key driver for me.”
Over the past 12 years, Hunter has grown CameraPro through the global financial crisis, and contended with the advent of social media and the sharp improvement of cameras on mobile phones.
But, the disruption brought about by COVID-19 is something else altogether, he says.
“It’s fair to say its unprecedented in terms of the speed of change,” he says
“The speed has been the real hard one to grapple with.”
Even in an industry that has always been fast-paced, the founder has never had to innovate quite this quickly before.
“It literally was pretty much over the course of a weekend,” he says.
“We’re constantly changing and having to adapt quickly, but probably not quite this quickly,” he adds.
“We’re updating forecasts on a weekly basis at the moment … I can’t think of any other parallel.”