The High-End Review

"To be an influence in any can be a little different, but only a little; a little above one's neighbours, but not too much."—C.P. Snow, The Masters, 1951

In April 1993, I was invited to talk to an audience of retailers and manufacturers at the 1993 PARA (Professional Audio/Video Retailers Association) Conference, Scottsdale, Arizona. The subject was the "high-end review." (The context was a series of lectures about becoming a high-end retailer.) As my text included considerable discussion of Stereophile's reviewing philosophy, I felt it would be worth publishing (in somewhat shortened form) as an "As We See It," particularly in view of the discussion of the subject in this month's "Letters." The text follows.—JA

The previous speakers have outlined the whys and hows of you becoming a high-end retailer. Having set up a good-sounding listening room, learned the importance of an effective demonstration and how to do one, and decided what products to stock, you're in the high-end business!

Then one of the high-end magazines publishes a review of a product you stock.

There are five possible outcomes at this point, all of which you will probably be familiar with:

1) The product gets a deservedly positive review, you having already determined that it is both easy to sell and works well in your customers' homes. The review brings new people into your store who depart as contented customers. Those customers spread the word about how well you've helped them, and all is well.

2) The product gets a rave review. For whatever reason, you don't stock it, and your sales of competing products stop in their tracks. Worse, perhaps no high-end retailers at all stock it, meaning that the momentum in the marketplace is destroyed, potential customers are frustrated, and all concerned are left with a bad taste in their mouths.

3) You do stock the product; a rave review brings customers into your store by the hundreds---more customers than you'd realized existed in your area. Yet your own experience has led you to believe that the product is actually quite ordinary, or worse. When you've sold it in the past, the customer has invariably been disappointed and has either wanted his or her money back or wanted to trade it in. In this case, do you go for the easy, review-generated sale, or do you try to swim against the tide and persuade the review-motivated customer to instead buy something that you do recommend?

4) The product gets a deservedly negative review, your own experience of it having persuaded you that it either doesn't compete in price, or that the probability of its working well in a customer's home is negligible. In fact, you'd already decided to drop the line before the review came out.

5) Finally, although the product gets a negative review, you've previously found it so easy to demonstrate and sell that it almost walks by itself out to the customer's car. The review can not only slow sales, the customers are so negatively motivated that they don't even want you to demonstrate the component. This leaves you with stock on your hands that will sit in your storeroom until the end of time---or at least until you have a fire sale.