Let’s begin with a very important concept that will be reinforced throughout this article:
Online galleries expand your sales reach to a greater audience. That’s great! Greater reach means greater exposure and additional sales beyond just your primary client. But many pro photographers have tried selling online only to be disappointed by the results. Why is that? Well, let’s take a closer look…
Starting to sell products online is just like starting any other business, it involves a lot of work. First to get visitors to your site and second to deliver them good service. The good news is that selling products online is cheap compared to managing a photography studio.
You can’t just build an online store and walk away from it. You must work hard to create an experience that clients trust and work hard to give those buyers such good service that they and their friends will buy from you. The bad news is that starting an online gallery is just like starting any other business: It takes work but in this case, it’s working differently – not necessarily harder.
Online galleries provide an inexpensive sales channel to reach your clients. Direct selling requires you either invite them into your studio or make an appointment to stop by their house. But there are significant downsides to in-person selling. It’s inconvenient to your client, often difficult for you to schedule and manage, and it limits your selling audience to just your client.
In-person selling is considered the best and most effective method of selling; it’s the preferred method that delivers the best results. Why is that? Certainly, if you can schedule an in-person sales session, that’s the way to go. It allows you to collaborate with the client, provide them with suggestions, and assist them with their purchase decisions. You establish a personal connection so that it becomes a relationship sale. Often confidence is instilled and the sale is between you and the client. Your client can see, touch, and feel real-life examples of the various products offered.
Sounds pretty good right? But our world has changed. The pandemic has reset consumer expectations. Where shopping from home was once just a nice convenience, it has now become a required expectation of today’s consumers. And besides, in-person selling has its drawbacks:
- You need expensive studio space to meet with your client.
- Meetings can be inconvenient to your client (or you) and difficult to schedule time, especially for couples.
- The client feels pressure to decide during the appointment.
- They may make hasty decisions and not think through all their purchase needs resulting in smaller package sales.
- Not to mention, the sale is only between you and the client
Imagine an in-person selling scenario where you invite your clients to your studio, sit them down, spread out all their photos in front of them on a table, and then leave them on their own to select the photos and the products to purchase while you are off doing other things. Why would you do that?? Most likely, this would frustrate your clients and not be a very successful selling event. Yet, that’s exactly what many do with an online gallery service. Post the pics and leave the rest to the client.
If I build it, they will come
Often, the misperception is that ‘if I build it, they will come.’ Photographers who have adopted an online gallery model in hopes of greater sales have been severely disappointed. Photographers are promised increased sales via gallery offerings only to realize not only did sales drop off (lower package sales), but monthly fees further eroded their revenues.
Meanwhile, photographers replaced their sales efforts and exited their studio in hopes of greener pastures resulting from the promises of online selling.
Maybe there is a better way to say this: An online gallery is a sales tool, but people want, need, and expect to be sold to.
The school photo business is effectively using online galleries to sell to the consumer. In this model, the consumer receives a simple call to action: visit the site, review just a few images, and choose from a few package options. Packages are offered to provide choices and help the consumer to organize their purchase decisions. BUT, most importantly, it’s easy for the consumer. The gallery consists of 1-5 images, the options available to them are few, and the product choices are limited.
The school process effectively applies a simple 1-2-3 step selling process:
1. Pick the pose
2. Select the options
3. Select the product.
Rinse and repeat as necessary
Now apply that same process to the portrait market except instead of 1-5 images, it’s hundreds of images and instead of a few products, it’s dozens if not more. Just ordering prints can be a daunting task.
First, select the images from the hundreds & hundreds available.
Then select the paper surface – lustre, matte, glossy, metallic, etc.
Then do you want it framed? Matted? On metal or wood? The options are almost limitless!
Overwhelming and confusing shopping experiences don’t work.
The best of both worlds
The question is, how do we adapt the simplicity of the school model to the portrait market? How do we get the best of both worlds? How do we achieve the effectiveness of an in-person selling model while benefiting from the convenience of an online experience?
The secret to success is incorporating the benefits of the in-person model into an online selling model to improve the entire experience for your client. For example, while the client is perusing the hundreds of photos online, ask them to just tag their favorites. Make it fun for them. And make it easy – ask nothing more but to have them tag their favorites.
Then put together a collection of items based on your knowledge of the hot selling items in the market and offer suggestions to them. Suggest framed coffee table prints, wall art, home decor items, etc. Put together a few various collections – possibly 3 – and allow them to choose and swap products between the collections to arrive at their own personal collection.
An online photo gallery is a sales tool; it is not a salesperson.
By offering them finished product suggestions, in effect, you are advising them – you are sharing your professional knowledge on the best ways to commemorate the occasion, and most of all, you are selling to them. Using the tools of convenience to empower the consumer to make easy choices.
Let’s check to see how we are doing against the in-person model: Ability to collaborate with the client, to make suggestions, and to assist them with their purchase decisions. Solved by offering up product suggestions. There is a personal connection; it becomes a relationship sale.
Success occurs when the client feels it is a sale between you and them versus your website and them. When posting the gallery, schedule a brief phone call and walk them through the various aspects of the storefront to help them understand how it’s organized. Touch base with them, either via email or by phone, to let them know they are important and you are there to assist if needed.
OK, we are doing good so far. But what about the client’s ability to see, touch, and feel real-life examples of the various products like they would do in your studio? This one is still an open issue. But here is what you do: Complete the process by offering the consumer confidence. Give them a satisfaction guarantee or you will replace the product. Make them feel comfortable that you will stand behind their purchases and will make it right until they are satisfied.
Then, keep your client informed of delivery status/expectations. Along with adding a relationship component to your online sales process, you have also overcome many of the disadvantages of face-to-face selling. Your client has added the convenience of perusing the images and product choices on their own time, together.
Clients can take their time, share the gallery with family members, and think through all the different ways they wish to express their special event resulting in larger package sales. The gallery and product offerings can be catered to a larger audience, expanding your selling reach and your prospecting list for future opportunities.
And remember, An online photo gallery is a sales tool; it is not a salesperson. Leverage the power offered via an online service to make this a win-win for both you and your client. Combine the best of both worlds to achieve a greater experience for your client and greater profits for you. It takes a bit of work – but then again, hard work pays off!