In this month's Tricks of the Trade feature, Online Editor Laura Barnes looks at whether retailers should be stocking more audio products and if money can be made offering repair services.
Speakers and headsets have always been important peripherals to keep in stock for any PC and tech retailer.
But with advancements in technology, and an increase in consumer demand for high-quality audio, there are more products than ever to kit out your PC, your home, or yourself, with.
“The consumer desire for wireless products continues apace with strong growth seen for mobile speakers (primarily Bluetooth) and multi-room speakers (primarily Wi-Fi and Bluetooth).” That’s according to SAR Insight & Consulting, which reports that the sound bar market in particular is expected to continue to grow over the next five years.
“The audio market is definitely growing, with 4K TVs being sold more and more regularly, customers are also willing to upgrade their audio systems,” James Pilling, showroom supervisor at Midlands Computers, tells PCR.
“Sound bars are becoming the mainstream purchase, with amplifiers and individual speakers seeming to be the choice for the sound enthusiasts.”
Luke Baker, UK PR at Creative Labs, thinks the booming market may be down to people beginning to care more about the quality of their music, both on the go and at home.
“People were satisfied with compressed low quality music when streaming and MP3 technologies were still new but now that they’ve become the standard. The focus has shifted and brands are pushing more towards quality and lossless formats,” he says.
While vendors, retailers and industry analysts agree that audio is selling well at the moment, the market has many different types of products, from music-focused earphones and speakers to gaming headsets and conferencing equipment. So to get an idea of what particular products are doing well, PCR delves deeper into what is flying off the shelves and why.
“Ever since the influx of tablets and smartphones with better screens, customers are wanting a better sound experience that can come with the physically smaller speakers found in these mobile devices,” says Dynamode’s product manager Elena Cernautanu-Rotaru.
“As such Bluetooth wireless speakers are particularly popular. The sound quality and the various designs of speakers we offer means we can cater for almost all customers and budgets.”
Luke Baker, UK PR at Creative Labs, comments: “At Creative we make a huge range of audio gear and each is doing well in its own field. In the audiophile circuits our DAC/headphone amp ranges are proving very popular. For gamers the new BlasterX headsets are going down well and for a more mainstream audience the Portable Bluetooth speakers are particularly in demand.”
Andrew Rogers, UK business development manager at Edifier, reveals that the firm’s lifestyle ranges for home entertainment have shown strong sales, especially its sound bars and speaker systems. “The Edifier M1380 2.1 speaker system is currently one of our most popular products in Currys/PC World,” he tells PCR.
The recent hogging of the headlines by all things virtual reality also seems to be boosting audio products in the gaming arena.
“PC speakers move very quickly especially with PC gaming becoming more and more popular,” explains Midlands Computers showroom supervisor James Pilling. “People are increasingly purchasing 5.1 and 7.1 speakers systems for their gaming rigs. With games now supporting Oculus, people need that Audio immersion to get that full immersive experience. For the more noise-concerned user, headsets are also key. We’re finding people are willing to spend over £100 for a quality set of cans.
“Logitech is especially popular here at Midland.”
THE LISTENING EXPERIENCE
While there is no doubt there are plenty of audio products that retailers can specialise in, it’s important to think about store layouts. For a lot of consumers, picking the perfect speakers or headphones involves a listening experience.
“Its vital for customers to touch and listen to the audio products. Spec sheets and marketing blurb are not go enough,” says Dynamode’s product manager Elena Cernautanu-Rotaru. “With so many different designs on the market it makes sense for customers to listen to the audio quality, as everyone’s hearing quality may be different, so having listening posts with a variety of music types – even movies – can help customers make the right decision in-store.”
Midlands Computers showroom supervisor James Pilling agrees: “This sort of customer will spend hours wearing their headset so having an experience before buying is essential.”
Creative Labs’ Baker believes the closer this experience can be to a living room environment the better. “This gives the customer a good representation of the sound they can expect when they get their new gear home,” he explains.
Audio vendor DeFunc, which sells earphones for four different categories – talk, music, sport and hybrid – details how it works with retailers to ensure that they have the best POS. “Visual merchandising needs to be educational – it needs to answer the customer’s questions and it needs to be clean and concise,” explains Johan Wahlba?ck, founder and global sales director at DeFunc.
“We offer a wide range of POS that is designed to strengthen the clarity of our message. The POS works on two levels: as a prompt to assist the in-store sales staff, and as an educational tool to guide the customer into making the right decision for themselves.”
IS IT WORTH REPAIRING?
As well as selling audio products, repairing devices can be another avenue retailers can go down. This venture is made easier if they already have the tools and expertise in place to perform repairs on desktops, peripherals and so on.
While some vendors prefer to push consumers towards their own repairs services, others believe more retailers should get involved in fixing issues.
“Edifier offers a repair service through its third party partners, but it would be good if retailers got involved in audio repairs to minimise waste of material and products,” says Andrew Rogers, Edifier UK business development manager.
Despite this, Dynamode warns that retailers should be mindful of the types of products worth repairing. “Owing to our competitive pricing structure for the Dynamode and LMS Data audio products there is little point in repair,” explains Dynamode’s product manager Elena Cernautanu-Rotaru. “However, from a retailers point of view, it could be a service worth offering, especially for the more expensive audio setups.
“Sometimes speaker units can get damaged or broken, or connectors on the speakers itself might need replacing. Often it can work out cheaper and easier for the customer to get these repaired without going through the hassle of a big investment and worry if its compatible with their existing sound card system.”
SOUNDING OUT THE FUTURE
For those planning to set up permanent audio sections in their store, or take on more audio offerings, we asked industry experts what products they think will be big in the next few years.
“Wi-Fi and wireless products,” says Andrew Rogers, Edifier UK business development manager. “Edifier showcased some of its latest Wi-Fi speakers for homes and business environments at CES 2016 and these were well received by visitors and media.”
Midlands Computers showroom supervisor James Pilling agrees that wireless is the way forward. “Wireless home systems seem to be growing in popularity, with more vendors joining the bandwagon,” he says.
Luke Baker, UK PR at Creative Labs, believes we will see more interconnectivity between audio devices in the near future. He explains: “Wi-Fi attached devices and speakers are already very popular and I’m sure will continue to improve. I expect as eSports continues to grow we will see a lot of gamers moving from cheaper headsets with fancy lights to higher fidelity analogue headsets to gain a competitive edge.”
Dynamode’s product manager Elena Cernautanu-Rotaru advises retailers to look at audio integration within the latest tech such as virtual reality and wearables.
“For media setups, especially home theater systems, there tends to be a need of up-scaling audio systems to become more immersive. There may even be integration with VR systems. This will be the techto watch. It might sound a bit too far ahead, but I’ve heard of Bluetooth audio speakers and microphones being woven into clothing already, so maybe we’ll see integration with smartwatches.”