By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
As we do annually, TWICE invited some of the movers and shakers of the digital imaging industry to our offices to discuss the current state of the market. Excerpts from the free-wheeling discussion appear here. For a transcript of the entire session, see www.twice.com.
TWICE: What are your expectations for the digital camera market this holiday season?
Ross Rubin, The NPD Group: We don't really do forecasts, but NPD has been conducting an economy tracker that gauges consumers' feelings about their own future spending expectations, as well as how they perceive the economy, and it's really been unclear. We saw some more optimism in the early spring and then that went back down in June, so it's been a bit of a roller coaster ride. I can say that right now we are seeing point-and-shoot cameras down about 20 percent year over year — that's year to date in May; digital SLRs are down about 13 percent year over year. Accessories are down about 10 percent … As far as pricing goes, we've seen in 2009 year to date the $100 to $129 price become the largest segment that we are tracking, with over 29 percent of unit share. Second has been $130 to $149 with 15 percent. The silver lining, if you will, is that the rate of price erosion has slowed in 2009, so it was only down 8 percent or 9 percent this year as opposed to double-digit declines in the past two years.
Bill Zani, Pentax: We think that consumers have delayed their spending for quite a while now, and there have been a lot of innovations, especially in the d-SLR market, that we think will make them spend greater than last holiday season at an undetermined level. We think technology is going to continue to drive additional sales and additional interest in the categories. It's all about the right price at the right time.
Darin Pepple, Casio: The sweet spot last year was the $150 to $200 price point. This year it is really below $150 — the $100 to $150 price point seems to have taken the lead. That is a significant change. It says that consumers are looking for a bargain. But the higher price point cameras are critical to the industry. Without them, margins drop and companies need to sell more in volume. We are seeing a lot of the higher price points moving to Europe, and in doing so that creates open opportunities with some retailers that will only carry a limited supply at their best stores. So that creates opportunities for other brands to come in and take those open spots with the higher price points in shorter buys in the U.S.
Casio is investing is dynamic photo technology with the ability to add moving animated art to a picture while it is in the camera to create this sort of electronic greeting format. We are going to use dynamic photo as our fourth-quarter hero to get the attention of the consumer using viral marketing on e-greetings they could send with their cameras.
Dave Troy, Fujifilm: Fujifilm's taking a very cautious approach with the economic outlook but I think the good news for all of us is that a digital camera has become a staple. It's not just nice to have one anymore. It's now you have to have one. We are dealing with a more educated consumer now. They have had a couple of digital cameras. They know what the problems were with their old ones and they're looking for solutions. Fujifilm is using this opportunity to expand the lineup with the addition of our water [resistant] group Z33 camera this summer. We have taken a lifestyle approach to looking at what people need to fit within their world to capture those moments they want to remember.
Lucy Pellegrino, Nikon: Taking the current economic situation into consideration, we are actually very bullish on the market and cautiously optimistic as we head into the holiday selling season. Our complete range of products really ensures we have a product for every type of photographer out there, and that's supported by the fact that even though the overall market is declining, Nikon is actually gaining market share.
We've positioned the company to be very nimble and flexible, so we are able to react very quickly to the changing market. We are working very hard to make sure our dealer base is healthy and strong, and putting products out there that make sense for this type of market.
Mark Weir, Sony: We are somewhat optimistic for the fourth quarter as well. It's clear to everyone that household penetration of digital cameras is high. So, particularly in difficult economic times, those looking for another digital camera are looking for something that does more than what their current camera can do. Certainly the challenge in low-light photography is something that people are fully aware of and what you can do with high-speed processing, like panorama built into the camera, is gaining interest. We think those are some of the new features that will cause people to consider a new camera purchase this holiday season, even in tough economic times.
Andy Flagg, Olympus: The biggest challenge we have is to openly welcome consumers back into our retail environment and purchase. When you walk into an environment today you may see a reduced SKU count due to what happened coming out of last Christmas. It looks like the fall will be more robust from an assortment standpoint as a lot of our major accounts are increasing their presence so that they can be prepared for a successful holiday season.
Our challenge is to really break through — especially on the point-and-shoot compact side — the commoditization that has happened to the category and to make it worthwhile for that customer to stick their hand in their pocket and spend money.
We think that our assortment for the fall is uniquely suited for that not only from an entry standpoint but all the way through our Tough-series products and ultra-zooms. We just hope that our retailing partners ultimately at the end convey more than just [specs]. We see this as a partnership between the merchant and the manufacturer to make sure that we haven't taken all of the excitement out of the product, because if we do, then everybody has very similar product.
TWICE: How are Q4 inventory levels shaping up for this environment?
Rubin: There will be some shortages in the market place. I think that's inevitable. Retailers have been as aggressive as they can be, but certainly no one wants to have too much inventory at any given time. If we are not seeing clear signals from the retailers both from sell-through and from promotional opportunities, then everybody becomes hesitant in their forecasting and commitments.
Weir: When new technologies are introduced which cause great demand, gauging that demand and having that reflected in the supply chain becomes one of the challenges, and I think all manufacturers are looking to deliver the kind of innovation that will stem the tide of ASP erosion.
Zani: Without clarity of the sell-through, without clarity of channel inventory, yes, there could be some shortages in key models.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.