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Amazon's Audio Mix Skews Toward The High End

6/02/2013 08:00:00 PM Eastern

SEATTLE – Unlike with some other CE categories, home audio consumers did not have to evolve their way of shopping to appreciate Amazon’s offerings. The chain’s e-commerce model is the logical successor to the traditions of audiophile catalogs such as Crutchfield and directresponse Bose Wave ads.

What Amazon brings to the table for consumers is a vast and varied product mix. CE VP Ben Hartman told TWICE: “We are seeing very healthy growth in every home audio category we sell,” which encompasses receivers, speakers, HTIB, soundbars, streaming music systems, radios and headphones. The fastest growth, he said, is in soundbars and streaming music systems.

Despite the site’s reputation as a haven for bargain hunters and showroomers, many of the retailer’s best-selling products are premium priced. “We have seen tremendous popularity with certain highend products that have clearly resonated with customers. Some examples are the Sonos Playbar, Bose Solo and X-mini II Capsule speakers,” Hartman said. “The same holds true for headphones, where we have had great success appealing to customers interested in headphones above $200.”

Aside from almost limitless inventory, one of Amazon’s other strengths is its extensive online support. Its Home Theater Help Guide offers links to dedicated pages on media players, A/V receivers, speakers and answers frequently asked questions such as “Should I buy a bundle or each piece separately?” and “In addition to a TV and a receiver, what do I need for my home theater?” The guide then directs customers to selections of remote controls, A/V cables, mounts and stands, and power conditioning and surge protection.

For vendors, Amazon represents an innovative supplier-retailer relationship.

“Amazon plays a unique and critical function in our overall channel strategy,” Sonos sales director Kay Berkowitz told TWICE. Through customer reviews, “Amazon offers potential customers the opportunity to learn about Sonos from others who have purchased and use the product and simultaneously gives Sonos a forum to present in-depth information about products that there isn’t time, space or sales associate expertise to convey in a retail setting.”

Feedback like that can be the Holy Grail for a supplier, and Berkowitz noted that it makes her job that much easier.

“Unlike [brick-and-mortar] retail, Amazon offers the distinctive opportunity for test marketing and promotional elements and to obtain sales results in relative real time,” she said. “This allows us to tightly pinpoint the most productive tactics so we can repeat what works and abandon what doesn’t. With exponential growth year after year, both organic and through proactive planning and detailed execution, Amazon continues to play an increasingly crucial role in the reseller mix.”

In the end, Amazon’s Hartman stressed that the retailer’s role in marketing is almost secondary to its true mission, building its loyal customer base. “We do not drive mix in any specific direction,” he said. “Instead, we provide our customers with broad product selection, great value, the resources to help them make informed choices, and convenient/fast purchase options. Customers choose what categories grow fastest on Amazon.com.”