John Shingleton, writing in his Rolling Road blog, seeks out camera shops wherever he is on his worldwide travels. But all is not well. As he says:
The camera business is in retreat all over the world. Sadly smartphones rule for young users and the latest digital cameras have arguably become so good that most buyers cannot see the point of upgrading when there is no visible improvement in the quality of the photos from the new model.
Camera shops are fast disappearing as the lower end of the market is squeezed by the smartphone and the high end is forced to compete on price with low-cost, out-of-town internet sellers. Running an expensive store in a prime city location is becoming increasingly more difficult.
Here in Britain he have seen wholesale closures of camera shops, including the demise (and partial resurrection) of the Jessops brand. Often, those larger stores that do remain are seen as a viewing place rather than as somewhere to buy. It is a mirror of the book market where readers will browse their local bookshop but download the titles to their Kindle.
Those camera stores that do survive tend to be the ones that offer a high level of advice and personal service. They are invariably small businesses and not a part of a larger chain. Of course, these stores also have to be competitive on price but they win by taking an interest in their customers and getting to know them.
In London we have three good examples with our Leica dealers, Red Dot, R.G.Lewis and Richard Caplan. All make an effort to get to know their customers and offer a tailored, personal service. As a result, they have a loyal following which, thanks to the internet, extends worldwide. Leica is a special case, of course, but I know of several other small businesses handling mainstream cameras that offer the same levels of knowledge and service. Chiswick Camera Centre, a Nikon Premier dealership and agent for Fuji and Olympus among others, is one prime example. I have dealt with Andy at CCC for many years and his enthusiasm and customer care is outstanding.
Not everyone is happy to rely on the anonymous services of Amazon and big-box retailers. Personal service does still count and we are fortunate in Britain to have a such a wide range of small, specialist retailers at our beck and call.