The camera shopping district in Taipei is located in the triangle of Ximen (西門), The North Gate or Beimen (臺北府城 北門) and Taipei Mainstation (台北車站). The shops are concentrated mainly along Hankou Street (漢口街) and Bo’ai Road (博愛路). It is a fascinating area, because usually you won’t see such a high concentration of specialized shops in a distinct area. However, this concept of having areas with shops specialized in one specific product or service is quite common in Taiwan.
For example Guanghua Digital Plaza (光華商場) for everything related to computers and electronic, tailors in Ximen, wholesale and tool shops in Taiyuan Street (太原路) near Taipei Mainstation, handicraft and DIY shops in Tacheng Street (塔城街) near Beimen, pre-owned cars on Chengde Road (承德路), or aquariums in Minquan East Road (民權東路).
In 2011 I visited the camera street for the first time and it was overwhelming. It was like paradise. So many shops selling camera gear in one place. I never saw something like this before. In Germany there are usually a few camera shops in a city. Over the last years I visited the camera street regularly to buy accessories or films and bring them for developing. In the last two years I have noticed that more and more shops closed and remained closed. Additionally, most of the closed shops are not rented to new tenants so that parts of the shopping area starting to look abandoned and not nice anymore.
To test if this was a feeling or if the number of camera shops was really declining over the last couple of years, I compared the number of shops from 2012 with the number in February 2020. I used Street View images from Google Maps to count the number of shops in 2012. For the recent numbers I went to the area and counted all the existing shops. Please be aware that the number of shops in 2012 is not 100% accurate, because in some cases Google Street View images were not complete for that time period or some shops could not be clearly identified.
This map shows the location and number of camera shops in 2012:
And this map shows the situation in early March 2020:
It can be clearly seen that the number of shops decreased from 45 in 2012 to 21 in 2020. Most shops closed in the areas outside of Hankou Street and Bo’ai Road. The decline in shop numbers was not continuous. When looking at Google Street View images from different time periods most shops closed between 2015 and 2018. During these three years the number of shops dropped strongly. Even though there is a general decline of shops in this area, still new shops open. So there is still some dynamic happening.
Why is this happening?
I assume that a mixture of different reasons, such as increasing rent, a general decrease of camera sales, and stronger preference for online shopping play a role for the decline. Additionally, based on my own observations, I also think that a poor shopping experience discourages customers to go to this area.
1) Increasing rent
In general the rent for commercial property in Taipei is steadily increasing over the last years. In some areas of Taipei, e.g. Zhongxiao-East Road, the rent has become so high, that even successful shops are forced to close. On 591.com.tw some of the shops from the camera shopping district are listed for rent and the rent can range from 1,400 NT$ per ping to 4,200 NT$ per ping. Which means that a shop can cost around 80,000 NT$ (~2300 Euro) rent per month.
2) Decrease of camera sales
The global camera sales are continuously decreasing since a decade. One main reason is that for most people smartphones have made separate cameras obsolete. Cameras and image processing in modern smartphones are so good now, that it can easily rival the performance of compact cameras or entry level SLR or mirrorless cameras. Additionally, technological advancements of cameras have slowed down over the last couple of years. Therefore owners of cameras do not feel to upgrade each time a new model is released. Another reason for shrinking sales could also be, that young people shy away from buying camera gear because of the high costs.
3) Online shopping is growing
According to his article “E-Commerce Shakes Up the Taiwan Retail Sector” the Taiwanese e-commerce market had and average growth of 10-15% over the last years. And it looks, like the growth will continue, which will put a lot of pressure on physical retail stores. The reason for growing e-commerce is quite simple, the products are easy to buy and they are shipped to your home. No need to go out and search for a product.
Interestingly, the prices for camera gear in the camera stores in Taipei are often similar or sometimes even cheaper than in Taiwanese online shops. At least this is what I noticed. However, meanwhile I also prefer online shopping and the reasons are listed below under point 4.
4) Poor shopping experience
This is my personal opinion. Even though the camera shopping street appears to be a fantastic place to buy camera gear and accessories, I found it mostly frustrating to go and buy things there. When searching for a specific product, I had to go from one shop to another and ask every time again: 你有沒有。。。? (Do you have…?)
There is not much on display, or there are no shelves that you can browse. They have tons of stuff in the storage, but without asking, you will not get it. It is not like in the big camera shops in Japan where you can just browse the shelves, take things into your hand and staff is not observing every movement you make. Therefore, I prefer to buy things online, simply to avoid running from one shop to another asking for a specific item.
It also happened quite often to me that I encountered completely incompetent staff, which I find unacceptable in a specialized shop. It was not because of language barrier. Even when I showed the Chinese names and pictures of things I was looking for, some of the staff had no clue what I wanted. And this was nothing super fancy schmancy or exotic stuff. Very common things. However, there are some shops with very helpful and knowledgeable staff. And surprise surprise, these shops still exist.
Finally, another thing that made me feel unpleasant in some shops was some sort of unfriendly treatment. A bit like I was only seen as a rich (LOL) white foreign tourist. Treatment was a bit like: What you want? Here it is. That much. Put money on the desk and leave.
What will be in the future?
I can only speculate about it, but I am quite sure that the number of shops will continue to decrease. In my opinion there might be two options in the end. One is that only a few big camera shops will survive and perhaps each of the remaining shops will be specialized in a specific product type. But in the worst case all camera shops will disappear and the whole area develops into a tourist quarter with hotels, hostels, restaurants, cafes, and other businesses catering towards tourists.
It is already very obvious that the number of hostels and hotels in that area increased over the last few years. The Taipei City government also heavily promotes Ximen and Beimen as tourist areas. So it makes sense that this area, due to it’s close proximity to Taipei Mainstation and tourist hot spots like Ximen, will turn into a tourist quarter sooner or later.
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