Owner: ‘Showrooming’ put him out of business
Battered by the poor economy and competition from low-price Internet retailers, Oregon Camera is shutting down after 47 years in business.
“Come Christmas, I’m going to close my doors,” said owner Rich Danler. “I’m done.”
He’s already started liquidating his inventory, with discounts increasing each week until the holiday. After that, he’ll lay off his three employees and call it quits.
Oregon Camera was founded in 1965 as an offshoot of Ball Studio, a local photography business. Danler bought the company in 2006 and began taking steps to modernize the operation, completing the transition from film to digital photography. In 2010 he moved the shop from its longtime location at Southwest Sixth Street and Adams Avenue to a much more visible storefront at 264 S.W. Madison Ave.
At first, the move paid off in higher sales, Danler said. But business tailed off in the second half of 2011 and has been getting worse ever since.
Part of the problem, Danler believes, is a general lack of disposable income caused by the lingering recession. But he’s convinced the downward spiral has been greatly accelerated by “showrooming,” the growing phenomenon of consumers who treat brick-and-mortar shops like his as places to gather valuable product information before buying elsewhere for the sake of saving a few bucks.
A variety of smartphone apps allow shoppers to make instant price comparisons, sometimes while they’re still in the store. Danler has tried to keep his prices low, but with the cost of overhead such as space rent and salary for a knowledgeable staff, he can’t compete with national discount chains such as Walmart or big online retailers such as Amazon.
“We spend a fair amount of time educating people about what kind of camera they need and all that. Some of them will buy from us, but it’s going to be a tough sell,” Danler said.
“There’s a lot of talk about localism — ‘Buy local’ — but when push comes to shove? No.”
Showrooming is having an impact on retailers nationwide, according to a recent report by the market research firm International Data Corp.
IDC estimates that 48 million shoppers will use their smartphones to help make buying decisions while they browse store aisles this holiday season, influencing between $700 million and $1.7 billion in retail purchasing. That’s more than twice as many consumers as last year, and the number of showroomers is expected to grow by about 10 million a year in each of the next three years.
Consumer electronics, including cameras, have felt the impact of showrooming more than any other retail category, according to IDC, which predicts that between 7 percent and 13 percent of all consumer electronics shoppers will use their smartphones at least once in the store this season.
For Danler, it’s all too much. The relentless drive by bargain hunters to find the lowest price, he believes, will continue to push independent brick-and-mortar retailers like him over the financial cliff. Knowledgable, personalized service will become a thing of the past, leaving consumers to choose between big-box discounters and online superstores while more For Lease signs pop up in local storefronts.
“I think it was H.L. Mencken who said a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, and I think we’re a whole society of those people now,” he said. “The whole thing’s going to get out of hand. It’s a race to the bottom.”
Contact reporter Bennett Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-758-9529.