If I have good local shops available, should I restrict my purchasing?
So, the title of this post is a bit tendentious — I'm actually interested in a canvas of the ethical landscape. Let me explain….
A few different reviewers I like (Guttenberg, others) have made mention of how important it is to support one's brick and mortar shop, should one have one near enough to visit. I actually have several, though a bunch of them are actually installation businesses that also sell gear.
As I've spent time in these shops listening and learning, I've also gained an amazing education online (thank you Audiogon, YouTube) about the variety of audiophile gear out there — including older gear, and gear made by small, independent artisans. They too deserve support and patronage.
What I'm struggling to determine is how to spend as ethically as possible. Assuming (1) a reasonably good selection and (2) reasonable prices, what do you think is the ethical thing to do as regards audiophile equipment? (I am NOT talking about major manufacturers such as Denon, Yamaha, etc.)
Here are some options, placed roughly on a spectrum. Where would you place yourself?
(a) "Totally limit to the local shop." All purchasing of audio would be restricted to what is available locally. No buying of gear auditioned locally online or used.
PLUSES: supports the local merchant and a place to hear new gear while providing the listener with products that meet the threshold of good audio. MINUSES: Costs more, limits brand options, cuts out many small makers who sell from far away.
(b) "Partially limit to the local shop." Some (not all) purchasing of audio would be restricted to what is available locally. No buying used or online what is available locally. Exceptions would include products from small makers who sell direct.
PLUSES: supports local merchant, but not as much. Expands brand options, supports small makers. May influence local merchant to carry more artisanal lines (assuming they get the message somehow). MINUSES: Costs more, less support for local merchant.
(c) "No limits where to buy, but truly audiophile-level products available new should be bought new." Purchasing could be done anywhere, but avoiding used versions of products that are presently available new would be prioritized to support the manufacturer and/or dealer carrying them. This could include the local shop or the online dealer.
PLUSES: Supports makers and those who carry new, good gear. Vintage gear is still ok to buy. MINUSES: Costs more, reduces support for those making deals and discounts available.
(d) "No limits, period." Any product can be bought anywhere. You can go listen in your local shop and then surf online to buy it discounted or used. If this continues the trend of the disappearance of brick and mortar stores, that's fine. The number of direct to consumer companies will increase, and that model may be the next evolutionary step.
PLUSES: Cost savings (discount, used, etc.); flourishing of new direct businesses; continued health of used markets; increased importance of online reviewers (professional and amateurs). MINUSES: Traffic and pollution from even more delivery vehicles; demise of curatorship role in audio stores, and the face-to-face relationships they foster. Demise of place to see gear simultaneously and do comparison listening.
This is just a sketch of the ethical landscape. I undoubtedly left our options and supporting/detracting pluses or minuses.
If you've thought about the ethics of your audio purchasing and have some thoughts, I'd like to hear what you take to be ethically relevant.
I will say my experience was I found a really good local dealer when I was fairly far down the road of buying/selling gear churning. Within a few years after that with said dealers help I was basically off the gear buying merry-go-round. Looking back had I tried the dealer approach first I would have saved a lot of time and money and probably had better sound along the way.
All that being said part of the gear flipping experience for me was the pure fun and discovery of it so not sure I would have wanted a purely dealer experience. For now thought my system is pretty stable I have no issues buying stuff used, mostly cables tubes and other accessories. My last major purchase, speakers, was through the dealer and I am thrilled with them. Keen analyses and good breakdown of options @hilde45!
I buy most of my gear second hand from a "local" shop in Portland.
There is a really nice audio store about 20 minutes from where I live (Portland is over 2 hours away) and I know the owner pretty well and want to see him do well.
Having said all that, I haven't bought much there. Part of it is that he doesn't carry stuff that I like, or what he does have that I like is out of my budget.
Whenever I need something repaired, I always go there, and I've bought a few things, and recommend them, so I do my part to support them.
I recently bought some brand new Harbeth Super HL5 Plus speakers, and bought those from another great local shop, but I was able to negotiate a nice discount and get a good trade in on my old speakers (more than I paid for them).
I work hard for my money and will spend in the way that's best for me, not someone else, no matter how much I like or appreciate them.
All "should" issues will revolve around "personal preferences" only if one determines that there is no ethical dimension to the question. If that’s what you think, then it may be that any option is acceptable to you.
In my own thinking out of these options, I presumed that because brick and mortar shops are in fact valued by many people (customers, owners, manufacturers) then something of value is at stake. That is why an ethical dimension is opened up. The resolution of questions arising within that dimension could go various ways, but something more than personal preference would be involved. But maybe the answers generated here will show whether there even *is* an ethical dimension. I could have that wrong.
I’ll also admit to having a great time surfing for stuff. It’s just so important (to me) to be able to hear something. And what do I owe the dealer for making that possible? That’s where my question started. I’m not sure where it ends — I’m really not.
@big_greg It seems like you’ve found a way to work out various options — you’re supporting different shops in the ways you find commensurate with what they can provide you. And you owe it to yourself to not throw your money away — which is, in the end, your time and sweat. I will note one thing that ran through everything you said — no matter how much your hard-earned money is worth, you didn’t say you audition in person and then do all your buying for the lowest price, online.
@hilde45 You're correct that I don't audition at one place, then buy somewhere else. That is not in line with my values.
I've bought many items second hand without hearing them, mostly based on reviews. I've rarely had any regrets, and if I do, if I've bought it used I can usually flip it and get most or all of my money back.
On the other hand, I've made a couple of impulse purchases because I really liked how something sounded in the dealer's showroom, but it didn't sound that great in my system or had some characteristics I didn't notice initially that I didn't want to live with.
One of the primary reason that I make it a point to visit at least one audio show every year. It’s a great opportunity for one to learn and evaluate gear for your future purchases and reward local dealers and online retailers with your business.
It is not only ethical to buy from a dealer who supports with knowledge and demos, but they can guard you from rookie errors that could blindside you.
I supported dealers prior to reviewing, and after years of that had both good and poor experiences buying o line. Caveat emptor factor rises exponentially in the open market! If I were to buy online again, I would only buy what I could audition, by seller, not dealer. Too much B.S. ratings and outright dishonesty. Not to mention shipping damage horrors.due to incompetent packaging.
I split the difference between wanting to support dealers and wanting a good deal by being forthright about seeking used and demo gear. Less choices but good guidance. Novices who blow off dealer aid often make a few missteps and imo don't advance any quicker.
I agree with @tvad .It's not right to take advantage of your local and online dealers.Unfortunately there are no shops anywhere near me.I would much rather have a shop where auditions are possible and spend my money there.
+1 @tvad +1 @lalitk It's up to legislators and lawyers to make the tax law. That said, if one's own state has a lack of funds for roads, schools, etc. then that does make me think twice about sucking it up and paying the taxes -- especially on a discretionary purchase. This depends, of course, on what I think happens to my tax money once it's collected.
I live in the least populated state in the nation (Wyoming). Saying just that gives you an idea of the lack of resources here. So, it became an interest of mine to build some of the speakers and equipment, saving cost in a number of ways. I tend to look to those who are close to me, and have used equipment online to sell. Then for the equipment that may build, it is a matter of finding someone of U.S. origin, and by luck I have found a few in Colorado that are great resources. It is possible with great results if you want it.
............ The system that I own now is not considered to be some kind of compromise in my experience, as I have owned a hell of a lot of equipment over the decades, living elsewhere. Even then used equipment was a no-brainer, and new purchases were often at the local audio shop in Tucson or Phoenix.
There are dealers that offer a good selection of both new and used gear and can help you make good decisions. Kurt and some of the other guys at Echo Audio in Portland for example. They've talked me out of buying something more than once.
FYI: Most states now require that sales tax is charged when sold to another state. Have you bought anything on EBAY recently? No way getting around paying tax anymore! I also live in a state where there are very few brick and mortar shops so I have to buy on line!
If you're in the zone where finding anything you might actually want locally is even possible, I can only envy you. You can see it, touch it, hear it, and most importantly try it out at home. If you can, that is totally the way to go. That's what I did, and would still do, if only there were anything in my area. That there isn't within 300 miles of Seattle speaks volumes about the hurdles we face once we reach a high enough level. What I did, and what 99% should be doing, is driving the 300 miles to hear everything you can and then buying the best of that.
As far as ethics goes, the way I see it this has nothing to do with supporting your local audio dealer. This is simply the best way to do it, period. Listening to a lot of different gear in a lot of different rooms is the only way to learn. Well not the only, but the fastest and best by far.
Don't abuse it. Do have the guy earn his money. Do ask to swap speakers or cables or whatever in order to compare. Do ask to home audition. But don't waste their time. Do it when you're serious about buying. Then if you go through these steps, home audition and all, don't be looking to shave the last few dollars. Just buy it. He earned it. You saved a ton. Because having done all this you know what you're getting. Internet prices are low and should be because until and unless you've heard it, its a crapshoot. Don't kid yourself. Price is only part of what you pay. There's also time and money wasted when what you bought sight unheard winds up getting traded.
This will probably be hard for a lot of people to swallow, but what you have to do when you're new and inexperienced is completely different than what you can get away with after decades of doing this. Because all that time driving around and listening, combined with reading and studying and trial and error, you can learn to find what you want without all the driving around. Its just as slow and tedious, but it can be done. I have a Melody, Herron, Swarm, Koetsu, Dayton, Verus and more that were bought entirely sight unheard and are not only everything I thought they would be, but all have far exceeded expectations. Amazing, considering the failure rate when I was driving around and the fact I am far more discerning and picky now than 30 years ago.
But notice- all those purchases were made with zero to perhaps half an hour of time invested on the part of the seller. I don't waste their time. They don't waste mine. That's the ethics of it, at least the way I see it.
You buy where you audition. Negotiate as is customary.
If you chose a brand not represented in your area then you are limited to what you read,wh at someone else owns or knows about it. Get a trial period.
Join an audio club, travel to a show, buy from dealers with good credentials when buying new.
In the HiFi Shark used market, caveat emptor always applies. Nothing over 3-4 years old. Best deals are from people who buy and sell for a hobby. One owner only. Original purchase receipt required. Verify with serial number by calling maker.
Red Flags include: -Selling for a friend-Run quickly. -Just back from the shop -No answers to legit questions -Never buy a speaker without hearing it first.
Smartest Buyer: Patient shopper with a wise mentor/consultant.
It is your money to spend as you see fit. Just stay out of store if you know you won't possibly buy from them. Yes they will be going out of business most likely anyway. Does not give you free rein to F=them on the way out.
@gadios great list of do's and don'ts. Thanks a bunch.
@millercarbon: wonderful post. I especially love this paragraph: "Don't abuse it. Do have the guy earn his money. Do ask to swap speakers or cables or whatever in order to compare. Do ask to home audition. But don't waste their time. Do it when you're serious about buying. Then if you go through these steps, home audition and all, don't be looking to shave the last few dollars. Just buy it. He earned it. You saved a ton. Because having done all this you know what you're getting. Internet prices are low and should be because until and unless you've heard it, its a crapshoot. Don't kid yourself. Price is only part of what you pay. There's also time and money wasted when what you bought sight unheard winds up getting traded."
I like to buy where I shop and get my information and service. Priority is to local shops - if I go in to touch and feel and listen, that's where I buy. This is where the best service is.
If I do ALL of my shopping and information gathering online, I'm comfortable buying there. This can be boutique shops or places like Crutchfield. I will also buy used on places like Craigslist - but not to get a little better deal on something new I just auditioned. More for vintage or something I just can't find locally anymore.
+3 @tvad (or whatever the + count is at this point). Very well said.
Tablejockey 2-22-2020 So, everyone here is being ethical, by claiming EVERY out of state purchase they didn’t pay sales tax on...RIGHT? I doubt it.
I for one have always been scrupulously honest in declaring "use tax," as sales tax on out-of-state purchases is referred to in my State.
BTW, there was a thread here a year or two ago in which that issue was discussed, and it turned out that a number of very experienced audiophiles living in States in which use tax is required to be declared and paid were not even aware of the requirement, even though it presumably appears as a line-item on their State tax returns. Presumably that kind of public unawareness has been contributing to States increasingly working out arrangements with online sellers for them to collect use tax at the time of purchase, and remit it to the State.
Finally, FWIW, I’ll mention that a major criterion I personally use in selecting audio products for purchase is that I strongly prefer to give my money to manufacturers who have established top-notch reputations for responsiveness to and supportiveness of owners and potential owners of their products. Even when I don’t foresee a need to ever call upon a manufacturer for support or even with questions, I simply prefer to give my money to that kind of company. If a product under consideration is made by a company whose reputation in those respects I perceive to be mixed or worse, it usually seems possible to find comparably good products made by manufacturers not having that downside. That is a major reason why products made by Herron, Pass, Daedalus, VAC, and Bryston are or have been represented in my system. And although I have never owned any Atma-Sphere products, based on Ralph’s extensive participation here and on the many comments I’ve seen about the exemplary manner in which he conducts business I would certainly also include Atma-Sphere on my personal list of exceptionally responsive and supportive manufacturers.
+1 Almarg: "I strongly prefer to give my money to manufacturers who have established top-notch reputations for responsiveness to and supportiveness of owners and potential owners of their products. Even when I don’t foresee a need to ever call upon a manufacturer for support or even with questions, I simply prefer to give my money to that kind of company."
All I can add is that sometimes a company is so new (e.g. the Billie amp) that they don't even have a track record. That's also problematic; of course, everyone has to start somewhere.
I have a great local dealer who works with me and their employees all know their stuff. I’ve purchased new and used and traded in equipment on new. It’s awesome to talk with people who have had many different customers all with different listening preferences. I’m able to describe the sound I’m after and they know the equipment that is most likely to achieve my goals.
I have backed off from selling the products that I hand craft due to expenses incurred for the option of 'if you don't love it, send it back.' This rarely happens, but since I don't make a profit on my hobby status, it turns out that I eat most of the cost. This is the price for customer satisfaction. In the future, I will simply raise my price a bit to overcome these costs. I can't imagine what it takes to make an honorable business survive enough to pay the bills, and for that reason it was best to leave it to the business minded.
Be upfront and honest with the sales people you deal with, wether on-line or brick. Initially you may just want to be introduced to the store and products. Approach them that way. If I lived in your area I would want to know them all. Likely several would get to know me by name. If I spent their time with auditions and that results in the desire to own a particular product I would provide them the opportunity for the sale. Fair market value need to be considered on both sides.
I would not restrict myself to local dealers. I would not use them to save a few bucks online.There are a vast number of products and many avenues for procurement.
We all have an interest in keeping the local dealers around for when we might need them, so auditioning gear there and then asking what they can do on price is fair game.
I once bought a pair of speakers that the local dealer didn't carry in stock (he had another of their products) and asked for a discounted price but still above what I would have paid going direct. I figured that having someone to stand behind the product locally and arranging to have it shipped via their regular shipments was worth me paying a premium so I would have support and come back locally. They were happy as they made a bit of money on something they didn't keep in stock.
Going direct to save a few bucks can result in local dealers going broke and leaving you on your own.
I love going to a local high end audio shop and want them to do well, but the truth is I can't afford most of what they sell. I can afford past models, used and second or third hand, but have leaned on the shop for service and advice, and happily listened to their product offerings for polite lengths of time, but always felt guilty because I had no intent of buying anything, and was always up front about it. One Saturday it was just me and the owner in the store, he asked me about my system,
where I bought the pieces and why, declared me to be thrifty, and then proceeded to suggest some possible improvements including what he thought were fair prices for used equipment with which he was familiar. When I asked if he minded dealing with pseudo customers like me, he said not at all, he'd rather encourage the hobby than always worry about the next sale. Then he sat me down with the latest Quad ESLs, a stack of cds and the remote, listened to one song with me, waxed poetic for a few minutes, then said he needed to make some calls and told me to stay as long as I liked, and closed the door behind him on the way out. I left 30 minutes later, totally blissed out, he was still on the phone, I assume with real customers, maybe someday I will be one. Another lesson in stop worrying and just enjoy the music.
@thosb I like that story, and clearly the owner is creating a relationship with you. That’s good for his long strategy, as long as folks like you -- once they acquire the means -- are going to come back and spend a bit more with that store.
For me, here’s a tough case:
Let’s say a store nearby gives me a chance to audition two speakers: Pricey A & Affordable B. I like them both, but I like A more than B. If I go online and buy direct or used, I can afford Pricey A. Otherwise, I can only afford B. I ask the store for a better deal, and they cannot get close to the online price point. If I buy A online, I get the preferred speaker. If I buy B in store, I get a speaker I still really like. If I buy A, I do not support the store. If I buy B, I do support the store. Without the store to audition these, I’d never even know what they sound like, that I like either, or which I prefer. Also, without the store, I have no one local to stand behind the product if there are issues.
It’s a hard call for me, because a lot of this audio journey is to find the best sound for my ears. Clearly, purchasing a speaker I like less to support the store feels like I’m not doing it right. And yet, without that store, I’d not know anything about either speaker. That tilts me back toward a more holistic appraisal -- it’s about supporting more than my individual preference, but the conditions which make that preference possible. (In this sense, it’s like vaccines; no one likes to get a shot, but herd immunity doesn’t come about if enough people opt out.)
@tvad Attending audio show goes around the dilemma, for sure. It solves the problem of "how can I hear things outside the context of my local shop" but it doesn’t choose within a dilemma I posed.
Regarding the idea of mentioning the online price to the dealer, I tried to build that in:
"I ask the store for a better deal, and they cannot get close to the online price point."
The question becomes, for example, "Are you going to pay $3500 rather than $3000 for that amp in the store because that’s the best the store can do — given their overhead, salaries, etc." I’m all for finding ways around a dilemma, but what if the dilemma is truly unavoidable?
Part of the question becomes very subjective at this point. You might think that paying an additional 15% above online prices is a fair cost to absorb, given what the dealer does and can do. Others might set their margin lower. I don’t know a principled way to deal with those differences.
@twoleftears If there aren’t local stores, I cannot see a dilemma.
@tvad I’m not sure there will be a one-size solution to the dilemma. I’m ok with that. The point of such dilemmas is to elicit additional ideas and sub-principles which can help.
When you say that you would pay $3500 to the dealer IF that $3500 represented a discount (in response to the lower price $3000), you’ve articulated a "best practice" as you understand it in the customer-dealer relationship. I hadn’t thought of that!
It reminds me of shopping for carpets in Turkey. If you didn’t haggle or even make a move to walk out, you’d get no respect from them. They wanted to haggle — it was part of the relationship-expectation. Would they like it if an idiot tourist paid full price? Sure. But the norm of haggling fulfills something beyond the sheer quantitative goal of the business relationship. In our culture, haggling is very awkward and sometimes completely inappropriate. It’s hard to know when that is, especially in business like high-end audio, where there’s an expectation that rich people are buying the stuff and they’ll pay whatever it costs.
There sure is. Big worries don't eliminate smaller worries, though. The fact that people are commenting here proves that they see something is at stake. Anyone who thinks this is a trivial issue is free to ignore it.
I always try to find what I'm looking for locally.... many of my purchases are local. Preamp, amps, turntable, blu ray, headphones, speakers, DAC, cables..... all from local dealers, mostly new. I thought I got a good deal, in fact everything except my Grados were discounted or a better deal than on line. Sometimes there is no dealer or something is a must have that's priced right and I'll buy on line.....
I just bought a Quicksilver Headphone amp. No dealer close by, Audio Connection in NJ was the closest dealer. No need to audition that amp in my opinion, I own QS maps so I knew it would be a keeper. John was great to deal with...
To answer your question about ethics.... I never waste a salesman's. time to gain knowledge or audition and then buy on line.... never. I factor in tax, shipping, any discount and if it's close I will buy locally. I often do business with a store in NH so no sales tax and it's close so no shipping . They have always been fair and over the past few years I've spent about $5k there.
oddiofyl I like your approach, on all levels; especially where you do your best to buy locally but will buy online, too, if there's something unique and a bargain.
Andrew Robinson did a youtube video where he articulated what one pays for when they buy something made in a country where the workers are well paid and have healthcare, as opposed to products from countries which are paying exploitative wages and not supporting workers. That too resonated with me. One might wind up spending more but I know I appreciate my health care and decent wages, so the notion that I'm supporting others that way seems important, especially for something as non-essential as an audio purchase.
Succesful salesmen connect with their customer. That said I bought a headphone amp direct from the manufacturer Headamp. Because he doesn't have dealers. The only way to audition one is if he pops up at a show or your friend has one. Got it in blue naturally.
I have no reluctance to buying on line but I’m not going to use a brick and mortar store as an auditioning studio then take my business to an online seller. As far as supporting a local brick and mortar store, I have no problem trying to direct my business to a good shop. If it’s not a good shop, well then, no loyalty. For instance, where I live our last brick and mortar store closed ages ago. At one point it was a good place. Founder retired, and his son took over. Dramatic downturn at that point. The son was wanting for sales ethics. Example- in the early days of digital a friend bought Apogee speakers, a Denon CD player (1560?) and Perraux amplification. His CD player developed a fault. He brought it in and was told he needed a new CD player. Knowing I tinkered in electronics, my friend asked me to take a look. Popped the top. Immediately clearly saw a bad solder joint. Reflowed it and repair complete. There were other less that complimentary stories about the place that were going around. Every time I pass the former location I shake my head and think “what a shame”
@zavato Good story. Sometimes the habits and manners of good customer service aren't passed down. I sometimes find myself bewildered with one local shop, thinking, "Didn't I just spend $5k with you? Doesn't that mean enough for you to answer my email?"