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Buying AV on the Net Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 May 1999
Article Index
Buying AV on the Net
Page 2
In the history of commerce or communications, nothing can compare with the Internet. In four years, the Internet has reached 50,000,000 users which took radio 40 years and TV 19 years to achieve. E-commerce is a term even your grandmother has heard and possibly experienced. While some of the Baby Boomers that run the high-end industry still don’t have e-mail, many companies do their marketing better now than ever before on the Net. The Internet, with its cost per thousand advertising model and well-financed, upstart e-commerce virtual stereo stores, has provided the industry with the opportunity to weed out under-performing high-end companies, while rewarding more cutting-edge and far-thinking firms.

There are advantages and disadvantages to buying on-line, depending on the products and services you require. Buying music online is genius if you your goals include making a fast buy, getting a good deal and choosing from a huge selection. I buy easily $1,000 in CDs a year over the Net from and, yet I still shop at the Virgin Megastore and Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The Internet cannot replace the analog beauty of flipping through the racks to find a new artist you’ve never bought before. On my last trip to Virgin, I bought a funky Euro-techno-dance record based on what I head the in-store DJ playing while I was shopping. Earlier the same day, I clicked on a HTML ad on and actually filled in the name of the band I was looking for and bought a CD there.

Buying Equipment on-line
When it comes to acquiring equipment online, I urge you to buy carefully. The best kind of online purchases are elastic products. By "elastic," I mean items that you can get in stores in every major city in the US. The e-commerce sites are killer for ordering a DVD player, a ReplayTV, TiVo or a TV. You can nearly always get a good deal and hook-up is pretty easy. You have to be more careful and/or use a more advanced approach if you’re buying a complete or more complicated system online. In today’s AV market, anyone can sell you a home theater system. How much you love the end result is based on set-up, programming and installation more than the performance characteristics of the gear itself. never advises its readers to buy with price as the sole determining factor. Brick and mortar dealers provide a service by demonstrating products and assuming physical overhead. They also train their staffs so that you can experience the best in AV at their locations. Most on-line e-commerce dealers work more on the mail-order model. Therefore, if your local dealer puts in the extra effort to help you out, don’t begrudge him or her that extra 10 percent. You can, and should, expect a higher level of service and support for your loyalty to the dealer’s business model.

I could name the names of AV manufactures who still don’t have e-mail or websites, even though studies done in the luxury car market show that 44 percent of buyers of high-priced cars did their research on the Net first before going to the dealers. These are the same companies that won’t let dealers sell gear over the Net, because the dealer might sell outside of his or her geographic boundaries. These are not only shortsighted and protectionist business practices – they are illegal. Unfortunately, AV dealers don’t have the might to take AV manufacturers to the mat in a legal battle. The dealers would win if they could afford the legal fees. Perhaps an e-commerce giant may yet take on the challenge. Ironically, many high-end AV companies allow "custom dealers" to design systems anywhere in the world, while telling traditional dealers that they must to stay inside a geographical radius. The upshot is that if the product you are buying needs no or little support, then you should consider buying it on-line. If you require a demo or installation, or simply want to keep your local dealer afloat, make sure you bring him the sale for your gear.

Credit card fraud and hackers, which have recently plagued sites like CNN, Amazon and eBay, are really no threat to you. 20-bit credit card encryption is really advanced and, even if the hackers got your card number, most cards protect you for every fraudulent charge over $50. I recommend using American Express for on-line charges, as they will back you, the consumer, up consumer 100 out of 100 times. While I don’t have one, I hear that AmEx’s new Blue card has even more advanced on-line buying protection and functionality.

On-line auctions are a funny beast. The idea is that you as an interested party in a particular product will bid on said product at a price for which you’d buy it. In many cases, the price is amazingly low: $9 for an Apple Macintosh G4/400 or $19 for Genesis AMP-1 loudspeakers. Understandably, these products create a buzz, yet they never actually sell at such low prices. In fact, I have seen cases where products are selling for more than the going price at non-auction e-commerce sites on the web. The advantage to bidding in auctions is that, when you don’t really need the product you are trying to buy, you use your willingness to take it at the right price as leverage. I have successfully done this with a Philips CDR machine on uBid. The disadvantage to auctions is that, if you see something you like and want to cut to the chase and just buy it right away, you often can’t. Every time I try doing business on eBay, I have this problem. I saw a life-sized poster of Fletch that would have been perfect for my office with a price set at $20. I bid well over that price and for some reason I never wound up with it. For this reason, professional sites like uBid or Amazon are preferable to eBay. The former two are retailers auctioning products to you, while eBay hosts a sort of virtual flea market.


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