How to Save the In-Person HiFi Shopping Experience
Buying a new pair of high-quality speakers or a great amplifier has gradually become an online experience over the past several years. We’ve seen many of our favorite Mom and Pop brick and mortar stores slowly fall victim to the convenience of online shopping. Many people are also providing written and video reviews on the products you’re looking for, so why would anyone want to start up a HiFi store when the shopping ecosystem is now primarily online?
Well, I figured out some clever ways to merge both so everybody wins.
Are you comfortable ordering your higher-end audio gear online without hearing it first?
Do you trust my ears over yours with your purchasing decision?
Look, I don’t want to sway you from watching my videos or reading my articles, but I think I am onto something here. I want to listen to what I am purchasing, particularly speakers; I want to know what they sound like before buying them.
How do we accomplish this?
Well, as it stands, the only way to listen to speakers and other components is to visit Best Buy or Magnolia; if you’re lucky enough to have a HiFi Shop in your city, you could go there. However, the disconnect between knowledgeable audiophiles willing to spend time with you and help teach you about HiFi before buying is a dying breed. Especially at Best Buy, there is a substantial opportunity to train these up-and-comers in traditional Hifi before throwing them on the sales floor to push whatever has the best spiff or margins.
So how do we do it?
Well, the first thing we must figure out is why people are buying HiFi products online. Searching for product information and purchasing expensive high-end audio online is becoming increasingly popular, which would likely affect the idea of leaving your house to go to a HiFi shop, even if one was down the street from your home. I’m sure for some consumers, shopping online could be a time-saving strategy and leisure-oriented for others. In recent years, the pandemic has only pushed this behavior further. However, do you go when there’s an opportunity to go to a HiFi show? It’s a great way to listen to hundreds of different products in poorly treated hotel rooms and get very little about how they will sound in your home. Look, I am not discrediting ALL HiFi shows as an effective and relevant means of experiencing new companies and products. Shows like Munich HiFi and Axpona are staples for many who enjoy this experience. However, the number of people wanting to buy at a HiFi Show might not be as aggressive as some companies may like, especially for all the work it takes to get to the show, set up, build a decent listening room, etc., and so forth. So, all of these companies paying their weight in freight to audition their products at these shows might not be as profitable or effective as they had hoped. If you had invested that money into ads online, I could honestly guarantee you a more significant return on your investment.
So why do companies participate in these conventions?
Well, exposure, of course.
They want to present their products to the eyes and ears of the HiFi community, expecting that they will go home after listening to hundreds of different systems and hope to God that theirs stood out. I wouldn’t consider it the greatest of PR moves, and for some, it’s just a flex for the more affluent companies.
The dealer network is quickly fading and not looking good as a future-proof investment. I applaud the HiFi Shops still in business and thriving because visiting these stores is a treat.
So, what do you do?
The first idea I came up with was to take advantage of the shopping mall. The shopping mall is also becoming a dying breed, which means the price of a storefront could come at a reasonable rate since many malls are desperate to fill empty spaces. Now, this can work in a few different ways; you, John Smith, could build a full-blown HiFi store in one of these malls and spend the time and money to renovate it to feature ideally treated listening rooms and a showroom featuring brands you create relationships with. Another option is for the manufacturer to invest in partnerships with other brands to create the ultimate stores to offer walker by’s the opportunity to audition their gear. You carry a small amount of inventory, only the most popular models. For the rest, you create an online experience in-store. This is a model that Dell Computers had in the mid-2000s; I would know, I worked for them. They had kiosks inside malls where you could walk up, see several models, ask questions, and learn new things; then, if you decide to buy, one of the associates would help you design a tailor-made computer just for you that would be built and then sent to your home. This is one of my first exposures to a hybrid model—half in-store and half online. Genius. You have all the strengths of creating a personal experience for your potential customers in-store, then when they are ready, you order their speakers or amplifiers on your tablet. Apple has adopted this strategy; however, they carry a lot of inventory in-store. Inventory collecting dust is a lot more of a hassle in the audio realm since the boxes aren’t as small as an IPAD. This model would be perfect for all these mega umbrellas like Sound United, which owns several different brands, and whose products they can audition in these in-store experiences.
Although malls are not as popular as they once were, shopping centers are still a hub for shoppers to peruse their favorite stores and discover new ones. So, there will always be foot traffic. Another option is to do temporary events and Pop-up shops, which create an alternative retail experience that is another growing area for malls and rental spaces. Companies want to create unique experiences that aren’t like a traditional brick-and-mortar store. These short-term events can give HiFi brands of all sizes and budgets a chance to showcase their products exclusively. By stepping into this new format, manufacturers can enter a physical market in a city or region without a presence. Besides mall spaces, you can also try other unique rental areas like demos at cafés, art galleries, renovated warehouses, or modern storefronts to give your pop-up something special and exciting for people to attend and talk about. How you choose the type of space best suited to your needs depends on several factors. It’s essential to consider the kind of space concerning your brand, your products, and your ideal shopper. You want to match the area and demographic with the product level you wish to audition.
I have seen companies doing these types of events overseas, one of many aspects of European culture we should embrace.
Again, even with a pop-up, you can integrate an online purchasing model in-store to order your brand-new customer’s products and have them shipped directly to their doorstep. This format would ultimately take away the need for dealer or wholesale pricing. At this point, we have cut out the middleman altogether—sorry, dealers. I am more focused on bringing the product to the consumer in a new, fresh way that will allow the manufacturers to thrive.
We have established that the brick-and-mortar stores are fading. Suppose there isn’t a quick shift and transition into a new way to introduce HiFi to the masses that still appreciate an in-person experience. In that case, we might lose it altogether and turn into an online ecosystem. By allowing consumers to listen to your products, you will have fewer returns and customer service issues because they know what they are getting into. How much B-Stock have you got sitting there from buyer’s remorse? Use that B- Stock to fill your new mall storefront or pop-up shop. Please don’t wait until the next generation of products arrives to fire sale them during the holidays. Put your inventory to work for you.