Where to buy audio equipment and how much one should pay are major issues in audiophilia. Like everything else in our lives, we want a good deal. No big surprise there. So much of what we buy is done without negotiating. When buying groceries, not many of us will barter with the checkout person by offering $35.00 for $50.00 worth of food. Asking for a discount on other products, like cars for instance, is not unexpected. I recently purchased a couple hundred dollars of art glass and whereupon asking for a discount surprisingly heard the sales clerk tell me “sure, no problem, I can give you 20% off.” Audio dealers can go hot and cold.
I sometimes wonder if most consumers really care that a dealer, for the most part, is an independent business person and needs to make a profit to remain operational. This is especially true for those dealers in commercial spaces. Some dealers, in my opinion, get it right. They will try to work with customers on discounts. They deliver purchased equipment and set it up for free – all as part of their service. Many dealers understand they are in a service industry and are selling a product no one critically needs to own. We don’t need an audio system in the same way we need food and transportation, although some might argue the point. Other dealers I wonder about.
Over the years I have traveled extensively for business and whenever possible, tried to take time to visit a dealer if one was nearby and located in a commercial space. I did not want to intrude into someone’s home when I was not really interested in buying anything. I have felt welcomed by some dealers and some have paid me absolutely no attention whatsoever.
I occasionally wonder if cynicism is not creeping its way into the retail side of our hobby. From both sides, are consumers being too critical and suspicious of dealers and are dealers doing the same? As a consumer, what expectations are there when we walk into an audio dealer? Do we expect to have someone standing at the door to greet us like might be found at Wal Mart? Do we expect to have multiple sales people fawning over us like a 1950’s gas station? Do we expect to have a red carpet rolled out for our arrival, regardless of whether or not we intend to actually buy anything? And if we do not receive any or all of these things, do we assume the mantle of being mistreated and leave the establishment? If we are not offered a huge discount do we storm out of the establishment in a huff?
On the other hand, when we enter an audio dealer, are we met with a friendly hello and told if we have any questions to please ask? If the offer of a demo is given, and we are then left to our own devices, do we relish being able to browse as we see fit? And if we do express interest in something, is that interest met with the immediate attention of a salesperson? If we are treated kindly, intelligently and respectfully, are we likely to return to that dealer?
I have been in many different retail audio establishments selling audio gear. I once visited a dealer dressed in shorts and a tee shirt. I was wandering around one of the more expensive rooms looking at gear and no one would event talk to me. No one ever attempted to discern if I could even afford any of the equipment regardless of price. My guess is they made a snap judgement because I did not look like some preconceived notion of what they expected a person interested in a $50K set of speakers should look like. On the other hand, I have been treated with respect and concern by numerous dealers. I once visited a dealer in the Midwest and could not have had a more pleasant experience. Did I buy anything? No, I didn’t and informed them thusly in advance. In spite of this, the salesman hung around talking equipment and the hobby in general. That was about five years ago and the mere fact I still remember the experience leads me to a definite willingness to do business with this company should the opportunity arise.
As consumers move ever onward towards online purchasing exclusivity, audio dealers might be wise to investigate their marketing strategies. Hyper expensive gear is almost a world unto its own. Most dealers make their bread and butter on lower priced gear – products selling for $5000.00 and less. Many of those components can be purchased online without too much risk. Their sonic capability is generally pretty much known. Some lesser priced gear can even be purchased from Amazon. If dealers want to maintain a local presence in their customer base, they should provide a reason for their clients to do so. That inspiration typically comes with great customer service and that includes purchase price and service before and after the sale. Anyone who feels like they got a good deal is far more likely to be a repeat customer. And that is how businesses thrive, by creating loyal, repeat customers.
I realize this sounds patently obvious. Anyone in business selling anything knows how important customer service is to the overall business scheme. However, as long as audio consumers are treated like they don’t know anything or can’t afford anything, it shouldn’t be surprising when consumers look online for their audio purchases. Having a customer visit and do business with a retail establishment is predicated on what type of an impact is made on that customer. A positive experience will usually create a repeat customer. Treat someone like an ignorant, second class citizen and it’s likely that customer will go elsewhere – whether the Internet or a competitor who actually understands selling.