Posted on September 09 2018
This weekend we launched our loyalty program! From the 8th Sept our customers can earn WonderPoints by spending money on film, sharing us on social media, referring friends or by writing product reviews. These Wonderpoints can then be redeemed for money-off in-store, driving down the cost of film for our repeat customers. This plan has been in the works for several weeks so we wanted to share a bit of extra perspective - why this is so important to us and what we hope it drives for the future of the community.
Analogue Wonderland is nearly 4 months old. Since we first threw open the doors (pages?) of the shop we have been blessed with a lot of interest from the community - and orders from near and far. We've learned a lot in this time, as people have shared information, ideas and their thoughts about film photography in today's world. Most of our learnings are positive and cheerful but there have been a couple that have made us think hard about how we can help the community - and what that means for Analogue Wonderland's direction as we continue to grow.
What We've Learned
1. We've learned that film photography is alive and well! This isn't as much a learning as an affirmation - but the passion and community spirit we've seen is even greater than expected. We've sent parcels of films across continents that are surprise gifts, we've managed birthday presents sent to hotels in advance for the lucky recipient to find in their room on arrival, we've helped connect photographers with the manufacturers of their favourite films, and we've enabled photographers living far from a good film shop to try emulsions and formats that they've never been able to access before!
2. We've learned that new products sell well. Specifically that those films people are working hard to bring to market (Dubble, Revolog, Street Candy, Kodak, Kosmo Foto and more) are gratefully received by experienced film photographers wanting to experiment as well as the new hobbyists picking up 35mm for the first time. In fact over the past 30 days, 4 out of our 10 top-selling films didn't exist in the UK in Jan 2017. Those are: Kodak Pro Image, Street Candy, JCH Street Pan, and Dubble Bubblegum.
Some of the new films that are selling particularly well
3. We've learned that film photographers love variety. The number of orders we've had since launch containing just one type of film could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. Now partly that may be due to the set-up of our shop - and our philosophy of trial and experimentation - but it turns out even the most stalwart HP5 or Velvia shooter will throw in a roll of something else when it comes to checkout. We believe this is a really important thing for a photographer's continued artistic development and we love that this concept appears to have been enthusiastically embraced by our customers.
4. We've learned that nearly everyone shoots multiple formats. And I include 'digital' in that definition. Almost all photographers we speak to have multiple types of camera. Whether it's an iPhone, a vintage 110, a DSLR, a Polaroid 600 or one of the new mirrorless beauties hitting the market - photographers today are lucky to be able to capture images in hundreds of different ways, and they tend to take full advantage of that situation! Of course true expertise will always come from the discipline of using the same tools over a long period of time - but mixing that with the open-ness of different film formats, mobile photography, digital photography and back again will lead to more photographers able to make great images in any scenario.
5. We've learned that the cost of film is a limiting factor on many people's ability to experiment. This is a sad but inevitable reality in a hobby like ours, and the free nature of mobile photography throws it into sharp contrast. While entry to film photography is wonderfully cheap (as long as you don't try and buy a Contax T2!) the ongoing cost of developing, printing/scanning etc that's needed before you can see and share your images can dampen enthusiasm somewhat. Of course the fact that each photo has an associated cost of pressing the shutter is partly what makes film photography so special - lots of people talk about it making them slower and more thoughtful and choiceful about their shots - but we should always be looking at making that cost as low as possible.
6. We've learned that Amazon and eBay are the ever-present elephants in the room. This is potentially controversial so I will stick to what we've heard from you all before reflecting on the consequences. Firstly - the logistics of Amazon (especially with Prime) are unbelievable. 24 hour delivery is an incredible feat to consistently achieve and their SEO presence makes them pretty unmissable when you're Googling films. And they make it easy to tie bloggers into affiliate programs with a % of sales going back to help fund server costs. However we frequently hear that people "don't want" to buy from Amazon so let's discuss why.
Amazon's stated aim is to take over the world of e-retail (it's right there on their mission statement) which has lead them to develop fast delivery and cheap prices for their users. But in making products so easy and cheap for shoppers they have to make up the profit elsewhere. We've all heard about the warehouse work environment and delivery shift controversies so let's not dwell on those - instead think about the wider industry. Amazon can - and has - ruined suppliers in a single week by changing their buying criteria or choosing to de-prioritise their products in their search algorithm because of an internal strategic or commercial decision. Amazon can - and has - blocked verified 'Amazon Sellers' when they perceive a violation of their terms. Unfortunately sometimes this has been a mistake or technical hiccup but before it can be investigated (which can take weeks) and rectified the Seller has already gone bankrupt.
This is not a mindless dig at 'big corporations'. None of these facts are a secret and many people are comfortable with their Prime membership regardless. We should remember that Amazon has also succeeded in breaking up established monopolies and made some product groups more affordable almost overnight so clearly they have a winning business model for some situations.
However the reality is that Amazon (and eBay to a lesser extent) can often take over entire industries which leaves the suppliers and customers entirely dependent upon their ongoing support - as well as signed up to the details in their specific T&Cs! And it's this nervousness that we hear time and time again from our customers who appreciate that independent stores like Analogue Wonderland and countless others in the UK are more invested - emotionally as well as financially - in film photography. So while they're happy for Amazon to be a controlling force in video games, books, or headphones (for example) - they do not want film photography to be in such a precarious position. Not while we're only just recovering from the toughest industry contraction since silver halides were first tamed!
Google trend data: worldwide interest in "35mm" dropped by ~70% across mid-noughties
What Does All This Mean?
Firstly: Analogue Wonderland is not going anywhere! We've received so many lovely emails, comments and orders that allow us to believe we are achieving what we set out to do: helping make film photography fun and accessible for more people, and supporting the independent suppliers who are creating wonders everyday in their laboratories and darkrooms.
Secondly: we must help the community get their films more affordably and easily to protect analogue photography from an over-reliance on retailers with no 'skin in the game'.
We will not be able to improve our logistics to the point of reliable 24-hour delivery in the short term, sorry (unless anyone has a spare automated warehouse they won't mind us using for free?) - but we believe there are different ways to make film cheaper and more fun. Part of that is our partnership with Digitalab (a voucher for 10% off developing, printing and scanning comes with all our orders) but we've been searching for something more...
A Loyalty Program!
How did you guess?! That's right: a loyalty program. Specifically a loyalty program that will allow people to buy their film as normal from us while earning points for future discounts and rewards - driving down the cost of film for customers and growing the Analogue Wonderland community at the same time.
You can earn points by:
- signing up for a customer account
- buying film
- sharing our site on Twitter and Facebook
- following us on Instagram
- getting a friend to buy from us (you get points; the friend gets a free film!) - also called referrals
- reviewing a product (head directly to the product page and find 'Write a Review' under the product description)
And you spend points by redeeming for cold hard discounts :-)
We also wanted to ensure that the more film you choose to buy from us, the more rewards you get. So you start on tier 'Point-and-Shoot' but can level up from there to 'SLR' and finally the ultimate 'Field Camera'! Each level provides better and faster opportunities to earn points, with the added bonus of a welcome present and the opportunity to try new films before general release as well as feedback on future product ideas.
September will not be quiet for us! We have the judging of the Kodak Summer Competition to manage, we're going to Photokina at the end of the month and hopefully meeting up with some other Analogue wanderers as well as announcing the winners of the Summer Competition, and finally we're planning a new product launch that will also go live during Photokina.
So follow us along on your social platform of choice, thank you for your ongoing support for our shop, and - as always - Happy Shooting!
- Paul and the Analogue Wonderland team