Stu’s guide to not being a dick when it comes to buying Hifi.

Imagine yourself arriving on a sunny spring morning at your local Hifi dealer with whom you have been in discussion for some time about buying your first really serious system. You are the first demonstration of the day and you arrive at 9:25, five minutes before the ‘demonstration’ is about to begin. There is five minutes of how are yous and general chitchat and then you are ushered into a rather nicely appointed demonstration room that has been set up just for your specific purposes. What’s more is you have a full hour’s use of the room, the system, and the salesperson (who also happens to be the owner of the store – but that’s not really all that important to this story). The room is dappled in spring sunlight and in there is a single sofa, a low table, a scattering of plants, and a smidgen of mood lighting. All in all it’s very convivial and is how you wish your listening space looked in an ideal world.

You sit in the centre seat of the three-seat sofa – a spot that has been specifically set as the ‘hot-seat’ and has the best sound in the house – and before you there is the system of your dreams. You have scoured the online magazines and asked countless questions in the innumerable Facebook groups that you are a member of, but most importantly you have been popping into the shop and discussing the final demonstration system with your host on and off for a couple of months now.

Kelly, the owner, hands you the remote control, the iPad and invites you to spend the next hour listening to some of your favourite tunes to get a feel for the system.

You’ve gotten to know Kelly quite well over the last few months and whilst the hive-mind of the internet has been useful and the online reviews have helped you narrow down your choices, it is her you have turned to when asking the really big questions. You have found her to be incredibly knowledgeable, helpful and with a hugely evident passion for music and its replay in the home. This is her fifth year in the shop and she has built an enviable reputation for stocking only products that she believes in, but also a reputation for offering the most excellent pre and after-sales care and support.

As you take your seat Kelly asks you if you would like a cup of coffee which arrives a few minutes later, and whilst you are starting to listen to your first record (you already have a mental list of the tunes you want to listen to and Kelly has advised you to choose recordings that you know well and you think will tax the system). Kelly leaves the room with an “I’ll pop in between tunes to see how you are getting on, or have any questions”, at which point you notice that along with the coffee there is a small selection of what look like rather splendid biscuits on a small plate on the table before you. That’s a nice touch, you think to yourself.

The first tune ends and as promised Kelly arrives and asks “How was that? Do you have any questions?” to which you respond that you feel the system seems a little bright. Kelly has anticipated this given the choice of speaker cables you have made and asks your permission to swap the current cables out for some ever so slightly more expensive cables, but ones that she feels will take that edge off and suit your particular hearing better. All done in a couple of minutes and you are left to continue your listening experience.

This coffee is really good and the biscuits are clearly not your run-of-the-mill own-brand rubbish. You sit back, find the next tune you want on the iPad and relax into the music thinking that this is perhaps one of the most pleasurable shopping experiences you have ever had. Throughout the hour Kelly proves to be attentive and almost magically there to answer your questions when needed, but at the same time not there and allowing you to listen and make up your mind about the system. You like that! You like it a lot and you like the system that has been put together for you a lot too. It fulfils everything you have been discussing over the last few months and you can’t help but think that Kelly has done a splendid job in putting together such a wonderfully coherent system at the price-point that you discussed – bar the few extra quid on the cables which you feel easily add more than their value to the sound, anyway. A change in speakers came later but the difference they made was even greater and you knew that the extra few hundred quid was certainly worth it.

Now imagine that you are Kelly.

The last five years have been tough but hugely rewarding and you get a real kick out of seeing people leave the shop with a huge smile on their faces, and you particularly like the emails you receive thanking you for your time and patience and how the sender is in musical nirvana given your help and assistance – one couple even sent a rather lovely bouquet of flowers by way of thanking you for your time and help.

You’ve got to know Chad (the chap currently sitting in the demonstration room) over the last few months and whilst he was certainly no newbie to the whole HiFi thing, he certainly wasn’t an expert. However, you took your time, asked the right questions, and found out his likes and dislikes both musically and sonically. Almost as much as Chad you were looking forward to the demonstration and had been in the shop at seven to make sure that everything was perfect for Chad and that he could make his final choice in an unhurried and un-hassled kind of way. You’d set the system up perfectly, ensured that the network was running properly, hauled the kit from the storeroom, dusted it down, and meticulously placed the speakers so that Chad really got the very best experience possible. You understood immediately what his needs were with regards to cables, and when he suggested he wanted a little more bass slam you went and found what you thought were the perfect, but slightly bigger floorstanders. Of course, this took a few minutes to set up but you ensured that your customer was well looked after, had a fresh cup of coffee and his now empty plate of biscuits was replenished. Whilst setting the speakers up you notice that Chad is tapping away at his phone – perhaps a family matter or a work email that needed his immediate attention.

The clock ticks around to almost 10:30 and the allotted hour has passed.

As Chad you are elated and you know you have the perfect system right there before you.

As Kelly, you know you have done everything you could possibly do to make the buying experience as enjoyable as possible.

Kelly enters the demonstration room and asks Chad how he found the system and explains that everything comes with free set up and obviously she was only a phone call or email away should he have any questions. From her experience, it is clear that Chad has found the system he feels he can live with for many years to come and Kelly feels a certain pride in knowing that she has not only made a considerable sale this morning but also that she has a client that will come back time and time again in the coming years as the upgrade bug takes hold.

And then it happens and the penny drops in Kelly’s mind as to why her customer had been tapping away on his phone whilst she was setting up the new speakers. Chad looks a little sheepish but also somewhat full of confidence and says “I’ve looked online and I can get the very same system from a well-known online retailer for 15% less than you are asking. Can you match that?”

Now dear reader, you can imagine the deflation in Kelly’s spirits. Not only has she spent the morning setting up this demonstration, but she has also spent the last few months offering up her time and experience to Chad who now slaps her in the face with a poxy 15% discount. Doesn’t he know the overheads that offering this level of service face to face has?

A discussion ensues but there is just no way that Kelly can match this level of discount and still cover her costs, never mind make a few quid by way of profit – that is, after all, why she opened the shop in the first place.

Chad leaves the shop without a purchase.

Kelly feels utterly miserable and used. And quite rightly so.

Our customer goes home, gets out his laptop, and buys the very same system that he heard in the demonstration room a few hours earlier and is more than a little smug that he has done so whilst saving what he feels is a hefty 15% into the bargain. A few days later the various boxes arrive unceremoniously at his door, and whilst nothing is damaged the boxes do look as if they have been thrown around a bit. Anyway, he lugs them from his front door, where the typical English spring has turned to showers and some of the boxes are getting a little rain-splattered if not actually wet, and into the front room where he spends the next six hours moving furniture around and setting the system up, only to find that the online company have sent the wrong speaker cable – by a strange coincidence the one they have sent is the one he’d originally had in the system that Kelly had set up for him. Obviously he can’t use this cable and so he is online and trying to contact someone to get the cable changed, but that’s not going at all well and he can’t actually get to speak to a real human being. It’s getting close to midnight when he finally manages to get the cable situation sorted but it’s going to be another five days before it will be delivered. For the next five days he sits in front of his new Hifi that is making no noise but did cost him 15% less than from Kelly’s shop. Five days later his cable arrives and all is well with the world. He has music at last and so it continues for the next month or so until his amp pops a channel. More hours spent on the computer. More hours of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons whilst waiting for someone he barely understands to pick up the phone. And yet more weeks spent waiting for a replacement to arrive – all the time he’s without music in his life!

If only he’d bought his system from Kelly all this hassle would have been so much more simple and sorted in a lot less time and possibly whilst having a nice cup of coffee and a free biscuit or two, he thinks to himself.

Your Hifi Dealer Needs You

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship!

So the moral of this story is that bricks and mortar dealers cost more because you are paying for a level of service that is worth it! And don’t forget that to run a bricks-and-mortar shop costs far more than running a warehouse and a team of outsourced telephone ‘helpline’ personnel.

Dealers give you a service far and away more personalised than any huge online retailer can. They offer a level of knowledge far in excess of what any large-scale faceless corporation can offer. They offer a level of after-sales service that simply cannot be given by the names that are surely by now on the tips of everybody’s tongues.

Now there are some very good online retailers, but these tend to be the ones that have a bricks and mortar presence too, or that have built up a reputation for excellent customer service over years and years…and quite often coming from that face to face environment in the first place.

So, don’t be Chad! If you intend to buy blind and online then do just that – it’s your choice, after all. Don’t use the time, expertise, and knowledge of a professional Hifi dealer and then go buy online because you may save a few quid. First of all, it makes you a dick of the highest order. Secondly, it is a false economy!

You pays your money and you takes your choice!

Hifi Pig says don’t be Chad!

Hifi Pig says Support Your Local Dealer!

You need your dealer and your dealer needs you!






Stuart Smith

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