Audio Advice, a leading home-technology installation company in North Carolina, wants to be the Blue Apron of home technology, attracting new customers – Millennials, especially — who want good products and services without the usual hassle of shopping.
The company recently launched an e-commerce site selling premium home-technology products, starting with audio, and backing it up with premium services such as free shipping, online chat and a wealth of information.
That wealth of information is critical … and also very expensive. But Audio Advice didn’t feel it had a choice.
“You either spend an enormous amount of money, or you get no traffic,” says Audio Advice CEO Scott Newnam.
Audio Advice founder and resident techy Leon Shaw provides much of the content for the site, including product reviews and comparisons, authoring such pieces as “Comparing the Rega Planar 1, Planar 2, and Planar 3 Turntables.”
The site also features more generic stories with SEO-friendly titles like “How To Properly Clean and Care for Your Vinyl Record Collection” and “How Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work? Are They Worth it?”
Newnam knows how to generate traffic from this type of content. For the past six years, he has been chairman of the board at Netsertive, a digital marketing firm.
Building a Broader Market, Millennials Included
The new e-commerce initiative was an enormous endeavor for Audio Advice – a seven-figure endeavor – for a company that has specialized in the retail and custom-integration business for nearly four decades, mostly at the high-end, high-touch side of the market.
For most of that period, consumers in general got in their cars, went into stores, spoke with salespeople and walked off with their purchases or scheduled deliveries and installation.
That’s not how people tend to shop these days — not Generation Xers and certainly not Millennials, which is an audience Audio Advice desperately wants to attract with premium products and experiences.
In setting up its new online platform Audio Advice looked outside of the A/V industry, emulating such companies as Blue Apron, which provides ready-to-cook meal fixings, and Warby Parker, which sells eyeglasses online and lets consumers try before they buy.
Modern-day shoppers don’t want to schlep to the store and try on a bunch of glasses, Newnam suggests. They’d rather go online, find some specs that seem OK, order a bunch of them and then return the ones they don’t want.
Audio Advice can’t very well do that with loudspeakers or headphones, but they can do their best to create a shopping experience that is just as painless, if not darn-right pleasant, for consumers that shun stores and salespeople.
“We’re trying to bring in a whole new base of buyers,” says Newnam.
When visiting AudioAdvice.com, users are invited to build a profile of themselves and their entertainment preferences through a drag-and-drop, visually interesting application that has us moving sliders to indicate things like our level of expertise, how much we care about audio quality, and where we usually listen to music. Users share preferences for music genres and formats, and indicate what kind of products they’re looking for.
Audio Advice provides recommendations based on your “sound profile.”
You can of course still call the shop to ask for advice or simply click the icon on the bottom of the site to chat with a sales associate. I tried it. An associate from the store – not some far-off land — responded right away. I know this because after I introduced myself he said Newnam was just passing by.
“Far more people chat with us [online] than call,” Newnam says, reiterating the company’s goal of “trying to bring in a whole new base of buyers.”
Getting Vendors on Board
Even with Audio Advice’s long and reputable history, the company still needed to convince vendors to come on board. First, many suppliers weren’t looking for any more resellers; others simply spurn e-commerce in favor of more high-touch sales approaches.
So far, however, “Every vendor has approved this,” Newnam says.
For one, they appreciate Audio Advice’s diligent product-curation process, he explains: “It needs to be best in class or we won’t put it on the site.”
Shaw personally approves every new product sold online – more than 400 products so far, with a long queue under evaluation.
Secondly, as Newnam explains it, “Vendors are telling us they don’t need another place to sell. They need a new customer base to sell to.”
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That “new customer base” prefers to learn online and shop online, which is what AudioAdvice.com is all about.
“We spent a lot of time designing around, ‘What do Millennials want?’” Newnam says.
Audio Advice is spending “real money on original content,” but Newnam says the effort helps the company build a strong reputation and generate referrals … even when much of the content helps drive consumers to other retailers.
“We know we’re going to give business to other sites,” Newnam says, “but it’s a rising tide for everybody.”
Meanwhile, Audio Advice still runs its integration business full-speed through offices in Charlotte and Raleigh. The e-commerce business helps drive that business.
“We think we’ll see more people buying from us,” Newnam says, noting the company’s database of 50,000 past customers. “Everyone has headphones, but most of them didn’t buy them from us. Maybe they bought them at the airport or online. We are missing that customer.”