I wanted to take this opportunity to share a recent experience I had at an audio store in San Francisco called the House of Music.
Some background about me: I am an audiophile in training. For years I have had speakers which were not good by any stretch of the imagination. For years, I have dreamed about putting together a great system and finally got some cash together to start building it. It was a long time coming. I'm a type of person who carefully researches things before making a purchase and does serious due diligence.
I had first gone into the House of Music approximately 2 months ago in order to look at some kef speakers. I was interested in taking a look at kef's lineup of speakers and was initially focusing in on some lifestyle oriented speakers called the kht 9000 ace. I thought the 9000's were speakers worthy of some consideration, but ultimately concluded that they did not offer what i was looking for especially in the mid-range for main speakers. While the speakers were very good for lifestyle speakers, they, in my view, were not spectacular (especially when contrasted with price/performance) for inclusion in my "dream" system.
The search continued and I ultimately went back to the store to take a look at the reference 203 speakers. I did an audition of them and ultimately the dealer provided me with a price estimate. The estimate was the FULL msrp price. Their were no discounts offered -- not even some complimentary cables/wires. They did not offer an opportunity for an "in home demo."
The estimate was for two reference 203's, a reference 202c center, and two back satellites (which for the sake of pricing was the kht 9000 which I thought would make good back channel speakers -- not as mains). With regard to the two back satellites, I wasn't yet convinced this was the way to go vis-a-vis the kht's, but for the sake of pricing out the system, I used those speakers to fill in the blanks.
Anyway, I decided to do some due diligence with regard to pricing. This was especially true in light of the numerous audio forums which claim that at least a 10% discount or something complimentary is pretty standard in the business. Some of these forums claim that if you are not offered 10% off (which according to some is "obligatory") run not walk out of the door.
Indeed, I can't think of any substantial purchase I have ever made where there was not at least some "haggling" with regard to price. Even Dell haggles when you purchase a computer (if you call to place the order you often get better deals than simply doing it online). I did not think haggling was therefore unusual or inappropriate. I sort of expected to be offered some form of break on a substantial purchase.
After being presented the msrp based estimate I was sort of taken aback in light of the forum discussions on discounts. However, since I had an appointment at the b&w showroom, I decided to head out and do some haggling with the system consultant after listening to some other speakers. At that juncture, I was still weighing my options with regard to speakers and overall sound. I listened to the b&w's, but I liked the sound and overall/fit and finish of the 203's.
To make a long story short, I contacted a number of kef dealers in the surrounding area. Nearly every dealer I contacted offered some form of discount. These discounts ranged from about 10% to approximately 27%. It did not involve haggling or teeth pulling. I called them up via telephone and simply said I'm interested in purchasing 4 reference 203's and the 202 center, what can you do for me? That was all. All of these dealers were authorized by kef and i got their contact info off of kef's website.
Significantly, there was no back and forth. They simply said here is the type of deal we can do, what do you think? I did not even have to haggle. It was sort of like the "customary" or "obligatory" discount which the various forums had said are common place.
In light of the availability of a discount, I ultimately decided to get 4 reference 203's plus the 202c center. This I thought would be a sweet system that had room to expand. While it was certainly more than I ultimately wanted to spend, I was convinced that the sound was the best match for me and some other issues (aesthetics) also worked.
Ultimately, the monetary discount I was able to obtain was significant. The msrp on this speaker package is $12,000.00. With the discount, I was able to make this purchase for well under $9,000.00. Again, a very substantial savings for anyone except a google zillionaire.
Prior to making an agreement to purchase from one of the other dealers, I contacted the House of Music and informed them that I did some due diligence and told them of other deals on the very same speakers.
I told them it was my preference to place an order with the house of music in light of the fact that I tried out the speakers at their store. Truth be known, they did not even have to be the lowest price out of all the dealers and i would have still purchased the speakers from them. I was looking for a reasonable accommodation. As it turns out, none was forthcoming.
Simply, they were not receptive to offering any type of discount or any other type of accommodation. They were simply unwilling to show any flexibility with regard to price. Accordingly, in simplest terms, I could not purchase the speakers from them.
Yesterday, I got a call from a system consultant at the house of music and, the long and short of it is, he called me "unethical" and asked me to forward him a check for $80 for a so-called "consultation" (in light of the fact that the purchase would not take place from his store). I advised that the store he works at is a show-room and I would have been more than happy to make a purchase from him had the price been within the overall ballpark of reasonableness. In other words, they should have offered me something other than the nebulous "we have great customer service" line in light of what the other dealers with substantially lower prices on the very same product. The claim of "great customer service" as it turns out was highly suspect in light of the tone of the phone call in which the system consultant essentially accused me of the theft of his intellectual property regarding system set-up. This was a ridiculous claim in light of the fact that the show room has kef speakers and ultimately the purchasing decision is based on what i think "sounds great" -- not what the system consultant believed. I was not asking for him to design a system for me. I was not asking for opinions on receivers or speakers. I was simply listening to speakers so that I could arrive at a decision as to which sound (between a host of brands and series within brands) worked best for me. I found the request for compensation to be both startling and unprofessional. I essentially told the system consultant that I would not send him a check and I thought it was unfortunate that he would even make the request. I tried to be nice about this and indicated that I would certainly consider them for future purchases, but I could not do so this time. I tried to explain that this is not like purchasing a burger at mcdonald's. It is a big purchase. I had spent approximately 3 months doing research before even visiting a showroom to educate myself. Overall, I had about seven months invested in the "hunt" for sound that I liked. One has to do due diligence. To me that is not unethical. Rather, it is common sense. I tried to convey to the system consultant that if the price is not reasonable, I am certainly under no obligation to purchase from the store at which I actually did the sound performance. Indeed, even if the price WERE REASONABLE, while I would be hard pressed not to make a purchase, no obligation (morally, legally, or ethically) would exist. But, I am not arguing or justifying in any way the later point, because had the price been reasonable in comparison with other dealers, I would have purchased from the House of Music (no if's or but's about it).
Notably, the store doesn't say right up front and the system consultant certainly did not say right of the gate "we don't haggle on price" so if you are not prepared to pay MSRP go away. Of course, I imagine this wouldn't be good for business.
I talked to some friends and they confirmed my belief that the store was behaving unreasonably and quite outrageously. It really did offend me to be called "unethical" when nothing could be further from the truth.
I decided today to call the store manager and relay what I considered to be a very disappointing conversation with the system representative. I frankly thought that an apology from the system representative or store manager would have been appropriate. Apologies can go a long way with me and I would have certainly considered them for a purchase in the future.
I asked to speak with the store manager but was instead connected with another system consultant. Apparently, the store manager couldn't be bothered to speak with me. Is this another indication of "great customer service?"
I told the system consultant what had happened and that I was disappointed in the behavior his fellow system consultant. Remarkably, this system consultant engaged in similar discourse to the first system consultant and essentially told me that since I was not a current customer of the store and did not intend to make a purchase of the speakers from them, there was no point having any discussion. He implicitly agreed with his associate that there is something "wrong" with listening to speakers at a showroom and then purchasing somewhere else -- even if the showroom furnishes a price which is entirely uncompetitive.
This system consultant (along with his associate) missed the point. Just because I didn't make a purchase of speakers from them, why on earth would they alienate a potential customer? If customer service is so important to them to justify a no-discount policy, wouldn't the smart thing to do be to say something like... you got a good discount, but if you have problems, don't expect any help from them..etc...wish me the best of luck and secretly hope that i ultimately do need some good customer service with regard to these speakers? At that point I would conceivably head to the house of music and pay so I could get "good service." To me this would have been a normal response. Instead, I got a harsh response which was entirely unnecessary and unjustified.
However, the promise of "good service" at this store I think is an empty one. I would never make a purchase at this store now in light of their overall unsatisfactory response and failure to recognize that their behavior was not only rude but also entirely inappropriate and unprofessional. Indeed, if this is how they treat prospective customers with thousands of dollars to spend on audio components, how on earth do they treat you once they have your money and you have a problem?
Anyway, what do you think?