Why retail organizations should encourage consumer photography

If you have it on your retail shelf, you must let it — rather encourage it to — go online

I walked into a store, yesterday and started to stream the beautiful assortment of products to my users. That is what I have been doing for some time. After a few moments, a gentle and polite lady walked over and requested me to…would you believe it…stop filming. I was shocked. Not because it violated my right to photograph or something. But simply because it sounded stupid for a retail store to stop some one from promoting its products. For free, if I may add.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Each time any one of us clicks a selfie in front of a brand or store or product or a picture, we are promoting that brand, store or product. For free!

And here this store was asking me to stop promoting them. I obliged. And walked out. Puzzled.

This was the first such experience for me. Even when I walk into a Mom and Pop store in town and ask for permission to shoot from within their store, either live or a video, I am always answered in the affirmative. Mom and Pop stores may not be run by smart alecs from B-schools and spend big money on marketing research but they are innately smart.

This led me to write this piece.

Lets evaluate this. What possible self-serving interest would a business selling retail products cater to by stopping a consumer or any one from streaming live or taking a picture of their shelf products?

A. Protect trade secrets???

  1. Ha ha ha. This is 2017 and if some one really wanted to ‘steal’ their product designs as some ‘boutque’ design store would like to think, why would they broadcast it by using a phone camera? They would hide it in a button camera and secretly take pictures!!! That is, presuming that they need to!
  2. Almost all smart retail organizations who plan to stay in business are going online. So in effect they are themselves shooting pictures of their products and serving it to any one with an internet connection! Trade secrets hidden in product pictures? Ha ha ha.
  3. In fact several smart organizations, like Renault India, Horlicks and many others, have selfie campaigns, asking users to upload pictures of their products on their timeline with a reward for the best picture.

Of course a store has a right to allow or disallow photography within their premises. But the question is not about whether they should allow or not. The question is — whether that helps them or not. The answer is — it does not help to stop people from clicking. It is a ‘no-brainer’.

In fact the smarter ones have realized that they need to encourage this behaviour. Even pay for it. As the opportunities for promotion of products and brands on social media dry up, businesses are already paying for it. Why do you think restaurants do food reviews? Why do founders tell the ‘captivating stories of how they arrived at a business idea’? They are all different versions of ‘selfie-campaigns’, so to say.

We live in the year, 2017.

There are or will be approximately 300-340 million smart phones with cameras and internet connections in India. That is 15–17 times the population of Australia. That is also 340 million potential promoters for all products. Marketing savvy businesses have long since figured this out and are constantly devising new methods to harvest this opportunity.

It is a wonderful opportunity and in fact democratizes the promotion options for SMEs. Earlier only the big companies could afford to engage the main stream media like television, newspaper or even radio. Now even a small organization can promote their brand or product at a scale they are comfortable spending money at.

Now, let us take the example of a fashion designer, whose core asset in the product is design. Should they argue, with self-interest in mind, that people should not photograph in their stores? For fear that their fashion designs would be stolen?

No! No! No!

Unless they do not know what their self interest is.

Asking people to stop photographing in the year 2017 in your store is like asking people not to breathe in your perfume store because the air is laced with your patented perfume!!!

It is impractical, to say the least.

Coming back to the fashion boutique example, a motivated ‘copier’, would buy the product and then make 1000 copies of it with a lot more at hand than a picture or a video. Now, what will the fashion designer do, then?

It is better to let them take pictures and promote their designer line.

I can understand if some one still disallows camera in their factory or workshop, for apprehension of their secret product development processes or formula being stolen. In a limited way this may make sense for some organizations, still. But the retail store is in any way open to the public.

Remember what you show to one person today, you potentially show to Facebook’s 2 billion users. And Twitter’s and Instagram’s… basically to the whole world.

Large organizations can move slow. But phone cameras have been around for a while now. If I am the business head of a high value exclusive design based store and some one even suggests that we introduce photography restriction in the retail store, to protect the designs, I would fire them. This level of ignorance is inexcusable.