Based on their January 2011 Industry Forecast, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) tells us the home audio segment appears to be in good shape (year-to-year unit sales up 27 percent, dollars up 37 percent).
That could be, but it’s nothing to get too excited about given how bad things were the previous year. One-third growth from “just shoot me” is not a high bar to get over.
Still, it made me think about where I would go to buy new home audio equipment assuming I was in the market, as I seem to have perpetually been throughout my entire adult life. I’ve bought a lot of receivers over the years and currently have six in daily use in two locations, along with the expected assortment of related A/V equipment. But excluding a couple of TV’s, the most recent of that was bought more than five years ago, so what would I do today were I in the market for new gear?
My last home A/V purchase was a flat screen, and while I shopped half a dozen Southern California retailers intending to buy from one of them, I ultimately bought from Amazon. Why? The extra product knowledge and advice regarding my system, which I would have paid more to get, was just not in evidence at the stores I visited. So, since Amazon’s price was $250 less for the exact same panel, not counting the fact there was no tax and free shipping, my decision was a no-brainer.
But that’s a TV, a purchase that is for me more researchable online resulting in much less need for discussion with knowledgeable sales people, had I been able to find one. What would I do if I suddenly decided I needed a new receiver?
To begin, I have by default decided I don’t need to replace any of my receivers, but I didn’t do so consciously, which is the industry’s first problem. All six continue to perform as they were designed to, in “technology time,” so long ago, and since the industry has done nothing to tell me what’s new, I have no reason to shop.
However, that aside, assuming one or more of the six were to die, what then? I don’t know and it is troubling because for me, buying an A/V receiver is not the same as buying a new TV. While I know there are websites that discuss the latest, I don’t feel nearly as comfortable buying based on just that as I did buying my new TV.
As I write this, Best Buy’s stock price is, give or take a few percentage points, down 12 percent year to date, down 32 percent from a year ago, and down 48% from five years ago. That is not a problem exclusive to them nor only related to home A/V, but don’t rule out the connection altogether. More than any other single example I can think of it quantifies the industry’s struggle to find some way to get people like me back in the stores, in this case, once again shopping for new home A/V equipment. Until that happens, we will have to continue to congratulate ourselves for having “leaped over” embarrassingly low sales “bars” that would have been unimaginable as recent as 10 years ago.