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PARA Outline Plans To Battle Mass Retailers At Conference

Audio/video specialists can succeed in the era of Internet and big-box retailers if salespeople interact with customers and orchestrate demos that trigger emotional responses, dealers were told during the PARA conference.

PARA, a Consumer Eleectronics Association (CEA) division that held its two-day conference at EH Expo, here, advised specialists to demonstrate their best systems to encourage people to aspire to own the best.

Getting salespeople to interact with customers rather than congregate with other salespeople will keep customers in stores longer and greatly increase the likelihood that they will buy, said Martin Smith, founder of EthnoMetrics, a company that researches and analyzes purchasing experiences. In one study, Smith found that 88 percent of consumers who interacted with the sales staff of one major retail chain made a purchase, whether the salesperson was seasoned or a neophyte. “If they interacted, they sold,” Smith said. Only 57 percent of people who entered the stores bought something, and only 29 percent of customers who entered the stores were ever approached by a salesperson, Smith continued.

“If you want to differentiate yourself from Best Buy, interact” and “get people to touch” products, he advised. “Customers don’t like it when salespeople are clustered together. They don’t want to interrupt two people talking to each other.”

“The truth is that face-to-face interaction is still king,” and the technically savvy younger generation has bought into that truth, Smith contended. “Eighty-seven percent of people 30 and under believe trade shows will be vital to them so they can touch the product and talk to a person,” he pointed out. For people over 30, that percentage is lower.

Younger customers who are technically savvy and know the number of HDMI ports they need are the “customers of the future,” and they prefer specialty retailers whose salespeople know the products they sell, Smith also claimed.

Successful interaction starts with knowing when to approach the customer and asking questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no, he continued. “Don’t pounce as soon as someone walks in,” he advised. Customers are ready to be approached when their heads go up, they look around, and they begin walking toward a particular product or product section, such as TVs. When consumers begin to navigate toward that product or section, they’ve qualified themselves, he said. At that time, salespeople approaching the customer should avoid questions as “Can I help you?” Instead, they might say they noticed the customer is interested in a particular product or type of product and invite them to see some models. “Don’t introduce yourself first,” he added. “Introduce them to products, then yourself.”

Store owners can help salespeople step up customers by displaying top-of-the-line systems that “are not too over-the-top but within aspirational reach” so the salesperson can “substitute down,” he added.

Smith also advised store owners to display accessories next to the products to which they can be attached so that salespeople can make them a part of their presentation. Accessory sales go up when placed nearby, Smith found in a study performed for one major retailer.

Sales of audio equipment might also rise if salespeople spent more time recommending and demonstrating audio equipment to attach to a TV sale, dealers were also told. Mystery-shopping service Satisfaction Services visited 630 U.S. consumer electronics outlets in 2007 and found that salespeople recommended an audio component to go with a TV 53 percent of the time, said founder Mike Albert. “It’s as likely to happen as not,” he pointed out.

Salespeople demonstrated a big-screen TV with audio equipment only 44 percent of the time, or about the same number that showed TV stands, mounting brackets and seating. Only 25 percent demonstrated the audio system using only music only and no video. But the salespeople suggested warranties and cables 56 percent of the time and mentioned home-install services 58 percent of the time.

Whether demonstrating audio or video, specialists should “show the best so the customer will aspire to own it,” advised Eric Bodley, senior sales director of Monster Cable. Instead of taking a customer from product to product, show the best product or system so they can discover all of the features and benefits available to them, he said. Then salespeople can help the consumer choose the features and benefits that are right for them, he said. “Show the best, and the middle moves up,” he added.

Demonstrating the best will also “get customers to fall in love with the product so that price becomes secondary,” he added. That advice applies as much to lighting-control systems as to audio/video,” said Lutron’s Jeff Zemanek.

Specialists should also apply these demonstration tips to gaming demos, dealers were advised. By connecting a game console to a home theater system, gamers will see the advantages of viewing new high-def games on a big-screen HDTV and hear the advantages of surround sound, particularly when the front sound stage circles around to the rear when the onscreen scene spins around 360 degrees, dealers were told. Gamers will find that their game play improves when playing select games through a 7.1-channel system versus a 5.1 system because they’re better able to hear the approach of a combatant coming from behind.

The average gamer, magazine gaming editor Andrew Finkel told the crowd, is 32 years old, and 40 percent of them are women. Men spend more money on games than on CDs, he added.

Dealers can promote dedicated gaming rooms as a way to free up the home theater for some family members to watch movies and TV while other family members pursue their activities on another A/V system, he noted. Specialists who dropped out of the autosound market can turn to gaming demos to bring younger people back into their stores, Bodley added.

PARA, a CEA division, boasts about 240 retail and installation companies as members.