Enhanced challenges for retailers with a salesfloor presence certainly reared their heads during the many months these dealers have had to endure the effects of COVID-19 on their businesses. One such challenge – product presentation – has perhaps been most keenly felt in the category of headphones and earphones. In normal times, it makes sense that consumers would likely want to have a listen before buying, if the models in question sit above certain price points.
The desire for a headphone demo aside, however, retailers now tell us that the pandemic itself, due to consumers’ COVID-stimulated stay-at-home behavior, has fostered the demand for better performance and comfort – which has translated into higher-ticket sales.
And recent research has shown that consumers are, indeed, taking heightened notice of the category. A pre-Black Friday survey by the Consumer Technology Association showed that 93 percent of tech shoppers were factoring headphones and wireless earbuds buying into their purchase planning. Research firm NPD Group’s headphone projections made this Fall was also bullish on prospects for certain categories under the ‘headphones’ umbrella which NPD expected would flourish as part of a second wave of “tech wants” as opposed to “tech needs” that manifested earlier on in the pandemic. “Sales of items we need to get through the school or workday took priority in the first half of this year, but as we head into Q4 and the holidays, we expect many of these ‘needs’ will have been satisfied and consumers will begin to purchase items they consider to be ‘wants’ or gifts for the holiday season, such as TVs and noise-canceling headphones,” said Ben Arnold, executive director, NPD industry analyst, in a report issued then.
Tracking What’s Trending
What do retailers feel about the headphones category now, and how (and why) have sales been trending in certain directions in the wake of COVID?
Sales of all A/V equipment have spiked since COVID-19 has kept many folks at home,” Robert Zohn, principal of the Scarsdale, N.Y.-based A/V specialty store Value Electronics, observes. “Headphone sales at our business rose by about 25 percent over 2020.” Headphones, however, can expect industry-wide success. A recent study by Market Research Future projects the earphone and headphone market to expand at USD 62.24 Billion by 2030. Concurring with that view of trends as it relates to Southern California-based experiential retailer Video and Audio Center is the stores’ corporate director and chief technologist, Tom Campbell. “Sales have been very good and our hottest sellers are at the high end – we are selling more premium models than ever,” he states.
Campbell cites Bluetooth headphones as an especially bright spot. Zohn is agreed that sales have increased in that category for him, at moderate price levels. “We are also seeing a moderate, but steady, increase in premium headphones to audio enthusiasts,” Zohn adds. Another point of intersection for the two retailers is their agreement about upticks in sales of headphones for private listening. “We are seeing an increase in headphone sales for watching TV in the late evening when one partner wants to sleep while the other stays up later,” Zohn says. “With more people working and learning at home, it is also helpful for when some are working on different projects at the same time.”
Creativity in Display
Since COVID made it a nearly Herculean challenge to present headphones and – especially – earphones within a showroom demo area, retailers were called upon to be cleverer than ever. Campbell says that while no in-ear models were offered for in-store demo during 2020 due to COVID, over-the-ear models, displayed in much the same manner as before the pandemic, are: “We sanitize them after a person tries them.” In Zohn’s store, precaution protocols are also followed in his dedicated headphones area as well as in several headphone demo stations in the A/V equipment areas. “We use disposable (foot covering) booties over the earpieces… We also give our clients disposable gloves to wear when handling the headphones and clean them with disinfectant.” Both retailers, of course, adhere to the face mask requirements in place everywhere.
Online Promotion & Sell-Through
At Value Electronics, headphones are prominently featured both on the general website and on a dedicated headphones page, Zohn says. “We’re also well trained on all of the models and features and have all the manufacturers’ resources for all models readily available so we can properly answer any questions and present the various models properly.”
Campbell cites Video and Audio Center’s multi-pronged strategies that the store counts on to work synergistically to boost and support sales. “We most certainly use social media and the website,” he says, “We also now have [the streamlined web address] vac.store as another way for consumers to reach the site, besides through our longer website address of videoandaudiocenter.com.” The retailer has also started a consumer phone hotline with the phone number displayed prominently on the opening web page and featured in all other forms of advertising, where buyers can place orders, get pricing and installation information, and more. “It was [store principal] Joseph Akhtarzad’s concept to start it,” explains Campbell. He added that it is a way for customers to efficiently connect for more pointed information about categories when they are not able to visit in person.
Both dealers say they feel well-positioned in their handling of the category until such time as when the marketplace emerges from the COVID situation. Meanwhile, they will ride the tide and optimize headphones’ advantages during this period, leveraging the selling points of high quality, comfort and ergonomics as primary motivations for purchase in this “new normal.”
“We look forward,” adds Zohn, “to the continued market growth and the advancements in audio performance to drive even more premium audio buyers.”
Nancy is a contributing editor for Dealerscope.