What is the future of high-end audio retailing?

What is the future of high-end audio retailing?
Here is what I think will happen
66% (76 votes)
I have no clue
23% (27 votes)
I don't care
11% (13 votes)
Total votes: 116

Audiophiles often prefer to listen for themselves before committing to a purchase. But brick-and-mortar retailers are succumbing right and left, partly a result of the economy and partly owing to the trend to online sales. What is the future of high-end audio retailing?

dg's picture

Retailers, whether online or brick-and-mortar, will increasingly support in-home trials of high-end gear.

Johannes Turunen, Sweden's picture

True high-end buyers, as in high prices, want to feel nurtured at auditon. Not have to stand in line at the cash register. So retailers need to really pamper high-end buyers. Who wants to buy Krell and Wilson online?

Glenn Loving's picture

As long as the manufacturers still support the dealers, then there will still be a place for high-end retailers to attach their value-added services. If they are only interested in moving boxes with no education of the product, then the brick-and-mortar shop is doomed. The future lies with the manufacturers. The retailers still need to carve out a value-added niche rather than just offering boxes that Best Buy does not.

David L.  Wyatt jr.'s picture

Brick-and-mortar will go to the true high-end, and no longer carry things like recievers. In-home demos will become common, as well as installation services. But no one will buy their first system there. Which is a shame because some things are meant to be heard.

Joe's picture

Stores that diversify by selling associated products like TVs, projectors, HT seating, entertainment centers, etc, might stand a chance.

Max L's picture

People shop price. If a brick-and-mortar outlet adds value, it can survive. If it doesn't it won't. Few people will choose to pay more locally if it adds nothing. For instance, if I can adequately mount a phono cartridge and can buy on line for 60% the cost of a local shop, where will I spend my money? Were I a brick-and-mortar retailer I would be awfully worried about the used market as well. A decade ago used sales were tough. Now, with Audiogon, it's a snap and the world is your marketplace

Jose Beltran's picture

Online sales will continue to soar, but this will lead to a newly refreshed growing market for brick-and-mortar two-channel stereo shops. As the younger generation gets older, curiosity for analog playback will rise. The goal here ultimately is to share how brilliant the art of listening is through high-fidelity playback, and to get people to shut their TVs off and go purchase a new home stereo system and give them a chance to discover the beauty of music listening.

Glenn Bennett's picture

The future was so bleak before the current recession/depression. If it wasn't for online and mail order, all we would have is used components on eBay. Retail stores are becoming very scarce.

DSG's picture

At least for the very high end, there will be retailers with physical locations because most prospective buyers will not purchase without hearing the component first and having it delivered and set up by the retailer. I cannot image purchasing a new as opposed to used component without listening to it first.

Bigjun's picture

Actually, the trend in online sales is mostly being driven by the used market. Savvy audiophiles are pre-listening to equipment at dealers and then buying on the used market (Audiogon/eBay)at a fraction of retail prices. Why buy new when you can get a component that's 1-2 years old at less then 50% the price of retail? I've compiled an awesome little system for $2K (all components under two years old) that would have cost close to $5K new + taxes.

Rob Gold's picture

Dead already. Sigh.

Jerry Stachowski's picture

I expect to see more high-end dealers working out of their house.

John H's picture

Retailers are hindered by ridiculously expensive products in a product-driven industry. Vendor policies prevent price flexibility and sufficient brand selection. The Internet has little to do with the problem. Consumers with MP3 budgets and audiophile taste already have nowhere to go. When a Stereophile review incites me to want to hear and possibly buy a product, I invariably find no local dealers. Retailers might be able to overcome those problems in a healthy economy, but not the one we have.

ric mannw's picture

There are few high end stores where you can hear products for yourself.

EP's picture

Many audio dealers also specialize in home theater installations and this may save some of them in the long run. I have also heard many tales of dealers that think they are clairvoyant and mistreat prospective buyers because they believe that the person is not really interested in making a purchase or that they will run out of the store after the audition any buy it on the Internet. I just read a thread on audiogon where a dealer stated to a buyer that if he wanted to audition more than one piece of gear, he would have to cough up $500. He was told by the dealer that the $500 would be applied to the purchase. Dealers like that don't deserve to be in business!

Alan's picture

The dealers that will work on price and service will survive. The old-fashioned arrogant guys will go under.

Jim Dandy's picture

The future of high-end audio retailing lies within the actual existance of a youthful high-end audio market. If high-end audio equipment manufacturers and quality-minded music producers truly want to survive and prosper, they must aggressively market their best wares to the younger music fan, at affordable prices. I'd suggest focusing on a universal ambient surround technique with true high-fidelity sound—that is, sound that is faithful to the original performance in every way (including a realistic soundstage and ambient surround) and leave it to the brick-and-mortar retailers to effectively promote it to the masses.

Bart's picture

A hybrid model where local market showrooms act as factory reps. Orders are made in store, inventory is reduced to practically nil.

AB's picture

Retail is still vital—for product awareness and trial. However, there is an increasing trend to purchase online after viewing at retail. This is unfortunate, as brick-and-mortar retailers have to compete with online retailers with very different cost structures. Lessons can be learnt from Dell—limit inventory at retail, whose role is to build awareness and encourage trial. Ordering process is online.

Lawrence Solum's picture

Online sales with 30-day home audition periods, plus social networks that make existing owners part of the distribution channel.

MJS's picture

There have always been discount mail-order audio retailers. What's different now is the huge amount of quality, comparative product information available online. Most buyers don't need (or want) an audio salesman's opinion when that info is available on-line in spades. I hope the audio salons can stay afloat, but it will be tough.

Mark Still's picture

I want to go into business, but not sure there is even a market anymore.

Futurist's picture

After the collapse of the monetary system, those who are still able to produce high-end equipment will do so independently and, of course, with the help of horses. Plastic is no more.

J E's picture

It will segment further to resemble the interior design world—the high-end >$15-20k total value (including contractors) will always be hands-on. Anyone remotely price sensistive will turn to the Internet.

DAB, Pacific Palisades, CA's picture

Economies tend to perform in waves. Tthey go up, down, way up, and way down. I predict significant problems for brick-and-mortar retailers in the short to intermediate term because of the job situation and prevalent economic headwinds. Looking ahead a few years, I see a recovery on the horizon, which should bring relief to small businesses (ie, brick-and-mortar retailers). Life goes in circles, but continues to go. Many who will be forced out of business will eventually be able to restructure and start anew. There will also be opportunities for more people to start their own businesses as well. All is not doom and gloom. We must inject a dose of optimism into the mix because I've seen times like this before.

Andy T's picture

Rely more and more on magazines like Stereophile and The Absolute Sound to make purchase decisions, unfortunately

Satyarth Kulshrestha's picture

A few high-end stores confined to large metro cities.

Chuckie Girmann, San Diego, CA's picture

I think sales will trend to go online. You get more and better information and if you buy something and happen to hate it, you can sell it second hand very easily.

Brian James's picture

Retailers will start to discount products and will have to step up service to compete.

Tim K's picture

So long as retailers give me 30 days to evaluate a piece in my own home, I don't care. No 30-day evaluation, no sale.