Retailers shoot to recapture photo business in digital age

Walgreens offers a significant selection of digital cameras with prices starting as low as $89, such as the General Imaging E850.

When the photo business made the transition from film to digital, drug stores lost a lot of business, particularly in photo processing. But now they’re gaining some of it back through sales of lower-priced digital cameras, inkjet cartridges and inkjet cartridge refills that target home photo printers.

Walgreens added a new line of digital cameras in stores last month when it began carrying two models from General Imaging with an entry level price of $89. The cameras will eventually be carried in 6,000 stores, with the rollout just about complete.

“We now have them in more than 5,000 stores,” said Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffani Bruce in late April. “So we’re getting close to completing the rollout.” The new cameras from General Imaging— the basic A735 and more advanced E850—were added to a lineup that already includes four cameras from Kodak and Polaroid priced in the same range.

The Walgreens rollout began on April 15 and marks a milestone for General Imaging. Walgreens is the first drug store account for the Torrance, Calif.-based company, which came out with its first GE-branded cameras in 2007 and now sells them in more than 22,000 storefronts.

“They [Walgreens] had been selling our cameras on their Web site but now we’re going into 6,000 stores,” said Rene Buhay, senior vice president of marketing and sales, Americas for General Imaging.

The company also is talking with other retail chains interested in carrying its cameras in stores. “We’re in talks with several other chains right now, but we can’t talk about them by name,” said General Imaging spokesman Cary Willis.

Other chains making a bigger push into digital cameras include Longs Drugs, which now carries Vivatar, Kodak, Fuji and Canon cameras in its stores. Rite Aid is focusing on its own private label line of single-use cameras, which take 25 photos and include such fairly advanced features as red eye reduction and a photo-delete option. Longs also has its own line of single-use cameras.

Some pharmacy chains also are tapping into the booming market for inkjet cartridge refills, which allows them to reach consumers who print their own photos at home. Walgreens, which launched inkjet refills in 2006, now offers the service in 3,000 stores and plans to roll out refills to 4,500 stores by the end of 2008.

It promoted the service last month with a free refill day on April 2, a promotion it first staged in September 2007 when it gave away hundreds of thousands of free refills. The company is promoting refills, which cost $10 for a black and white cartridge and $15 for color, as a way to save money and protect the environment by reusing cartridges.

“In a tight economy, this is a great opportunity for people to save money on costly ink cartridges and do something good for the environment at the same time,” said Walgreens general merchandise manager of photo-finishing John Sugrue. Walgreens also carries close to a dozen refill cartridge brands.

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