Someone's Wrong About Camera Sales

I reported on the first quarter CIPA camera shipments over on sansmirror.com recently. I'm now seeing a number of articles on other Web sites that are using words like "modest growth" or "market expands" or other positive indicators about camera sales. 

Since I've been writing about hot or not lately and how words can impact perception, I think it's time to tackle the CIPA shipment gains with the same scrutiny. 

Yes, shipments from the Japanese camera companies increased in the first quarter. 

No, sales of cameras to customers probably did not increase in the first quarter. At least not as far as I can tell in the Western markets from the initial data I have available to me. 

I've now talked with four people with more access to real retail sales numbers in the US and Europe, as well as one large and a couple of small retailers, and they all are talking about mostly stagnant or declining sales. In particular they see that in DSLR sales, but they see it in every category other than for "just released cameras." 

So which is it? Did ILC cameras "grow by 5.8%" in Q1 as CIPA suggest or did they go down by some number? 

I'm guessing they went down.

Which means that the channel is getting slightly stuffed, and if those extra shipped cameras don't sell, we're back to the instant rebates and sales to move them, which will lower everyone's margins (though it's good news for potential buyers).

Unfortunately, there's no easy way to judge this, as the CIPA numbers are a trailing indicator. If what I say above is true, then eventually we'll see camera companies easing off the production and shipment of products. 

There are some analysts who speculate that had the quake not caused sensor shortages last year, ILC camera shipments would have been flat for 2016 compared to 2015, and the increases we've seen recently in 2017 shipments are just trying to make up for that. Thing is, I'm not seeing evidence at the retail level to support that assumption.  

For purely anecdotal evidence, I offer this: I was at B&H earlier this week. I visited the camera area twice during the day between meetings, once in the morning, once in late afternoon. The Nikon, Canon, and m4/3 camera kiosks had zero customers. The Sony kiosk had a couple of customers each visit. Overall, the store was fairly busy, but not in the camera area. Indeed, the lens area seemed more active than the camera area, and it wasn't exactly overpopulated with customers. 

The next day I visited my local Best Buy and our biggest area camera dealer. Same thing. No one at the camera stations looking to buy, but there were some people looking at accessories at the dealer. 

Again, purely anecdotal, and with a mid-Atlantic bias to boot. But the cash register numbers I've seen seem to support the same thing: a weakness in camera sales.

I just don't think we're out of the downward glide yet. Pronouncements of hitting bottom may be premature. 

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