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?

Peter's picture

A few high-end stores will remain open in major urban areas, and high-end manufacturers that don't go out of business will allow Internet sales of their products.

Steve Baxter's picture

In the mid-seventies, Dr. S. Harmon predicted massive growth because only 5% of American households had high-end audio whereas 25% of Japanese households did. It didn't happen as he hoped, but I don't know why. There is still plenty of room for the trend to reverse. I cannot explain, therefore cannot anticipate, that the slump in high-end audio will persist.

wha's picture

Online retailing with a 30-day trial period.

david evans's picture

High-end retailing does not seem to me to have a future. Demo is necessary but, especially for high-end, a demo in the room in which it will be used is much better. To me , that suggests a service-centric online business model where brick-and-mortar cash can be freed up for investment in online and home service.

Daniel's picture

More physical stores will continue to close, because: 1) They are usually few and far away from most people, especially if you live away from a metropolitan area; 2) Most every hI-fI store I've gone into is staffed by people who've been in the business 20 years, love audio, and somehow still manage to be complete snobs; and 3) Oh yeah, the snobbery leads to a few different problems, including pricing. Audio equipment is- in general- extremely overpriced. The materials going into a lot of the products out there are sometimes not even a fourth of the selling price. So yeah. The audio manufacturers should catch on, and realize that just because they can jack the price 500% above cost, doesn't mean it's the right thing by their customers.

Brendon H.'s picture

The way in which audio products are sold may change but the passion and expertise that have made the industry will not die out anytime soon.

Dan's picture

The dumbing down of America will continue and discerning consumers of audio equipment will be forced to become "robots with money." I live in the Los Angeles area, but I would have to travel long distances to be able to audition all products I'm interested in. We will have to rely on reviewers whose opinions we think we can trust.

Jonathan M Derda's picture

I can't determine the future of high-end audio retailing but I can tell you what the two biggest problems are. These problems are not unique to audio, but in my 15 years of retail experience, I can tell you it has gotten worse. These problems are: 1) Diminished passion and 2) Consumer's turned scam artists. How is a consumer expected to become a customer in the vanilla ocean of what audio retailers are pushing? How many letters has Stereophile received from readers who are distraught that they can't find a retailer within 500 miles who sells one of the products recently reviewed? All they can find is five dealers in one town who carry the same speaker brand or a very similar variation of a theme. Dealers have become so caught up in the business of doing business they lose sight of the brass ring, great products. How did this happen? Consumers became scam artists. Who else but a scam artist could go into a business and spend hours if not days leading the salesman on with the idea that they are going to buy something if they are treated right and are given knowledge and maybe loan out a piece or two. Even after the dealer going through all of that time and expense is it too much to ask they make some money for their services? To a lot of people I guess it is. Some of these consumer scam artists have the audacity to return to the scene of the crime and tell the salesman who guided him to the right product how he did a great job but he didn't get the deal because the product was $100 cheaper online or could be found used for half price. This behavior causes retailers to be very cautious of what brands they will carry. Does the manufacturer have a unilateral pricing policy? No? Then it is a no go. Is it sold through a very limited distribution network? No? Then it won't go in the stores. Is it sold all over the web? Yes? Then they can't sell it. Lack of moral fiber in consumers leads to vanilla audio stores leads to store closures leads to a loss for the audio community. Forget about golden ratios and start thinking back to pre-school and that Golden Rule thing our parents talked about. If we do, it will be a better future for everyone in this industry and others. just look at what has happened to camera stores they have it worse than audio retailers. Obviously there are exceptions to my experiences and the exceptional stores will endure.

music lover's picture

There will always be some high-end audio stores. The reason being that you can't hear things over the Internet.

Seth G.'s picture

The majority of the brick-and-mortar stores are selling essentially commoditized AV equipment. High-end stores, for the most part, are not There will always be a demand for people to have access and be able to evaluate gear in person especially once you start spending over the $2k price threshold. As far as the size and market share and ability of the shops to stay functional remains to be seen.

tom mcdermott's picture

All commerce will be moved to online retailers. It is only a matter of time.

daryl's picture

There will be a few retailers that will remain in the market, particularily the bigger cities. Overall, I think that there will be a reduction of retailers to those few that established a reputation for expertise and excellent customer service. It is unrealistic to think that there will be many retailers that can offer the same expensive products that we purchase at the downward trending rate now seen in the market. I love Audiogon and so do many of the readers of this magazine. Online is going to play a significant role going forward.

Honest Sam's picture

Is there such a thing as "high-end audio retailing"? Every time I was in a "high-end" store, the "retailling" experience has been traumatic at best.

DG's picture

I haven't a clue because the answer seems to rely on audiophiles having enough sense and integrity to support the best retailer in their areas, not the jumbled junk-boxes where we're unwelcome without an appointment and where pressure is the mode. The informed stores where we can listen and buy when we hear what we like should survive.

T.J.'s picture

Personally, I love the excitement I get from walking into a high-end audio store and the smell of electric current. I need to audition before buying anything no matter how reputable the online retailer is.

Joe Hartmann's picture

When I started into this hobby, I was able to hear the compontents I was interested in as part of the units I found closer to real music. That is impossible even to best of the high retailers. Just try to audition phono cartridges.

phil mcanus's picture

They will be gone. Too much markup.

Louis P.'s picture

Dealers will actually have to provide value to earn their profit margins. That means that they will have to be willing to deal with walk-in customers and drop "the attitude." Sure, it costs a lot of money to build a showroom, hire knowledgable help, and pay the electric bills to keep the equipment on all of the time and the temperature comfortable. So when the dealer has actually let me into his showroom, I have heard all of the things described in high-end magazin reviews, and had no problem paying the dealer for his services. And the more time I was allowed to listen, the more I got hooked into saving up for the next purchase. It would also help if the dealers would humor the customer a bit. Give a small discount to someone who buys several components. Or throw in some decent interconnects when the custmer buys an amp and preamp. And for heaven sakes, din't charge list plus on audiophile recordings as one NYC dealer does.

Jim cerven's picture

At the high end, those serious audiophiles know that that have to listen to equipment in order to make the right choice. They also know the value of well informed retailers and the help and advise they provide. In the mid to lower end, I believe people will shop more and more on-line. There are a number of large, reputable on-line firms that sell fairly priced and good sounding stuff. in the end I think retailers will have to remain competitive with on-line, There'll be a shrinking of brick-and-mortar establishments, but they won't disappear totally.

Dennis's picture

I think there will always be boutique, tried-and-true high end audio stores. I think the not so good ones will be gone but the ones that care about their customers and have good product lines and give great service will pevail. I'll admit, I have purchased smaller items online ($1000 and under & products my dealer doesn't carry) but overall, I go out of my way to support them, and they do go our of their way to help me. Its a great relationship that I am sure I am not the only one who enjoys. It's like a doctor. Md.com is cool but it will never replace a real doctor who makes house calls.

Babak Hakimizadeh's picture

They will slowly go where CompUSA and Circuit City went, people will go there to audition the equipment , then will buy them online. There might be room for very few high-end store in select markets.

ch2's picture

Having just visited an old long-time dealer this past week, I was oh so disappointed in everything that I beheld. So little variety, all aimed at the deepest of pockets. What a shame, what a loss...

Chris Kenney's picture

It will most likely continue, but there will be fewer dealers just as we're seeing happen with the auto industry.

DJ Brands Palm Bay FL's picture

Online sales and the economy have swayed the industry. However another variable that seems to be avoided is pricing. I can afford a low priced pair of Audioquest speaker wires, a Jolida tube amp, and a $300 SACD player but not the $50K turntable. The industry has to put out more products of high qaulity at a lower price, to follow the trend of becoming leaner while growing sales.

FearlessLeader's picture

Even in the toughest economic times, there will always be The Rich. There will still be brick & mortar stores, just far fewer of them. Unfortunately, I think that "high end" audio in the U.S. will eventually become almost (>90%) exclusively concerned with Home Theater... music alone will not be sustainable. Europe will continue to enjoy 2-channel sales, however.

barondla's picture

The brick & mortar will bounce back when the rest of the economy does. There also needs to be more entry level priced equipment and coverage to get people into high end. Stories on improving the iPod would help.

G.C.  Van Winkle's picture

I was part of the CE industry for 20 years, never high end although that's where my heart lay. I hope that there will always be a place for the genuine knowledge and excellent service provided by a good local dealer, but my last purchases were from the Internet. Quite honestly, the more you know the less you need a dealer, and the harder the dealer has to work to impress me. I was not very impressed 8 years ago when I bought my previous high-end system, now since gone with my ex. I saw no reason to go back to that dealer, allegedly one of the best in Houston. They seem much more interested in custom A/V installations than 2-channel hi-fi these days.

Aden's picture

Retailers will keep dying and online will become more prominent. Mixed blessing. Hopefully with the death of retailers we'll also see the death of greedy money-stealing slime-bags we call distributors. I'm sick of paying half the cost of a new component to a distributor when I could buy for half the cost direct! Fed up totally. But on the other hand, we need to listen first, so retailers need to be somewhere. Not a sustainable model - I know, but as I said - mixed blessing.