As with many audio subjects, the efficacy of sales through a dealer network is often marked by stark differences of opinion. Many audiophiles see tremendous value in purchasing from a dealer, others do not. Some audiophiles would prefer to simply do business direct with a manufacturer and others would be apprehensive about such purchasing practices. One thing is for sure, with the number of dealers in the US declining, buying from a dealer has it challenges.
Probably most obviously is dealer proximity. How many audiophiles scattered about the US have no dealer at all located nearby? How many of these same audiophiles are willing to drive hours and hours to see equipment, or worse yet, fly to some faraway city? Certainly some do, particularly if the equipment in question is very expensive, but for most folks, probably not so much.
Another issue I have seen too many times is the dealer's sales people not understanding how to assist the customer in making informed decisions and obtaining the component that best suits their needs - in short, knowing how to sell. So let's ask the question, what should a consumer expect when entering a brick and mortar audio shop?
First and foremost, the customer should be treated with respect, courtesy, and politeness. That also works both ways. No one should expect to be respectfully treated if they are not willing to do the same. The consumer should always act in a professional manner and if the same is not reciprocated, simply leave the store.
Customers should not have to endlessly wait for someone to offer help - unless of course the store is crowded with people and then each must take their turn. I've seen some dealers who have someone at the front door who pleasantly says "hello" when customers walk in and ask if assistance is required.
When being approached by a salesperson, be direct and don't waste anyone's time - "I'm interested in "X," or maybe "I have some questions about these speakers." I visited a dealer in the Midwest once and upon entering, told the first person who approached me that I was just looking around and if I had any questions, I'd ask. The sales people mostly left me to my own devices because they probably knew I wasn't really interested in buying anything.
Dealer sales people should never assume anything. The person who walks in with shorts and a t-shirt may be "Richer Than Crassus" and was so dressed because they had been working in the yard or exercising. The opposite is also true, being finely dressed doesn't equate purchasing power. Many dealer sales people do exactly that, however. This is especially true with women because most dealer sales people simply figure women have no idea about the audiophile hobby. True enough, many do not. There are those that do and making uninformed assumptions can lose a sale faster than the blink of an eye.
Selling audio components should start with asking questions to better understand the customer's needs. In that way, the components that best match the customer's requirements may be considered. Some useful questions would include, "what are you looking for in an audio system?" "Do you want a two channel, surround sound or home theater system?" "Do you like tubes or solid state, analog or digital?" "Do you like a bass heavy presentation or something more balanced?" "Where does your system reside - in the great room or a dedicated room (or if applicable, "where will your system reside?")?" "Do you have a budget in mind?" These questions and more should be discussed because understanding the customer's interests are paramount to providing a system or component to meet them. Be skeptical of a dealer who tries to usher you to the expensive or budget showroom without first asking questions.
If there is one complaint dealers, both B&M as well as home based dealers universally make, it is the customer that comes in to listen then buys online. Worst of all is the customer that actually borrows something for a demo, returns it, then buys something used online. Anyone who does that should not be surprised to be treated with indifference the next time they visit that dealer. Don't be surprised to be charged a demo fee only refunded with a purchase. No dealer is interested in a potential customer who only wants to kick the tires. While it is true the customer is under no obligation to buy anything from a dealer, it should be understood that dealers are operating a business and are not there solely to verify buying decisions to be made elsewhere. A dealer I know once asked a customer to not return because he was tired of providing free loaner equipment only to have the customer buy something used online. Being professional is a two way street.
Pricing is also something that matters. For most of us, discounts are presumed on the purchase of an expensive piece of audio gear. But here's the thing - the dealer is under no obligation whatsoever to discount anything. I know of a dealer who sells at list price and rarely discounts anything. How they manage to get away with that is a mystery to me, but they do and have always done so. When discussing price, ask for a discount but if one is not offered, or if it is not as much as desired, there's not a lot to be done about it. Dealers have the freedom to discount or not and if so, how much. They may lose the sale but in the end, the dealer sets the price.
Buying audio components is tenuous enough on its own without a dealer making it worse. The better and more successful ones make doing business a pleasure, not a confrontation. When you buy the new whatever, if you leave the dealer's store feeling like you were treated respectfully and you're happy with your purchase, then the dealer has done their job. If not, it might be time to find a new dealer.