In an era where it’s so easy to buy (and return) Internet-direct AV gear and smart-home products, specialty AV retailers and custom installers face the daunting challenge of figuring out how to get potential shoppers into their stores. It’s the same challenge that pretty much every brick-and-mortar store faces these days, but high-end AV retailers must deal with a second hurdle: When your industry still caters primarily to men, how do you avoid alienating the other half of the buying public?
I don’t speak for all women. I only speak for myself when I say that a trip to the specialty AV store sounds as appealing as a trip to the car dealership. In both cases, I’m going in with low expectations. I expect to be ignored or talked down to, to have all sorts of stereotypical assumptions thrown my way, and to be constantly pushing back against the upsell. If I can research and buy similar goods on the Internet and avoid that treatment, I’m going to do so.
We all know that sales is an art—the art of truly seeing the person right in front of you and figuring out how to sell specifically to them. Every sale is different because every person is different, so it’s hard to make generalizations on how to sell to anyone. But here are a few big-picture suggestions for AV/custom retailers to keep in mind when interacting with female shoppers—really, all shoppers.
Check Your Bias
I was originally going to title this section “Don’t make assumptions,” but the reality is that salespeople have to make assumptions. It’s just part of the job. The question is, are you making assumptions that immediately dismiss or diminish the person who just walked through the door?
I’ve worked in the AV industry as a writer and gear reviewer for about 20 years, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been dismissed or diminished at trade shows, industry events, and specialty shops by pitch people who assume I don’t know tech. If I’m standing next to a man while getting a pitch on a new piece of AV gear, the chances are still quite high that a male pitch person will not make eye contact with me at all. He assumes I don’t know or care about the technology and won’t understand what he’s talking about. If he does look at me, it’s always when we get to subject of design—the nice finish,
If a man and woman come into your store together, don’t assume he’s the gearhead and she’s the reluctant tagalong
the color options, the pretty buttons. You know, the kind of stuff a woman would care about. If I’m the only person getting the pitch, he usually tends to dumb things down to an offensively basic level.
Even if all your past experience tells you women don’t care as much about the gear, it’s important to check that bias before interacting with any new customer. If a man and woman come into your store together, don’t assume he’s the gearhead and she’s the reluctant tagalong who’s just there to make sure he doesn’t go crazy or pick out ugly stuff. Treat them as equal partners, enthusiasts, and decision makers, at least until their own words and actions demonstrate otherwise.
And if a woman walks into your store by herself, she’s there for a reason. Maybe it’s not to buy a $5,000 tube amp or a $20,000 pair of electrostats (or maybe it is!). The melding of AV, smart home, and advanced control technologies has created an incredibly interesting and diverse portfolio of luxury home products that can appeal to anyone, so you should want and expect to see more women checking out your showroom.
The fastest way to kill that potential sale is to talk down to someone. And the reverse assumption is also dangerous: If you assume a man has a high level of tech knowledge and bombard him with overly complex specs and industry jargon, that can be just as off-putting. I personally would have nothing but respect for a salesperson who asks me what level of technical knowledge I have before showing me a piece of gear. Do I want high-level tech talk, do I want to keep it basic, or do I want something in between? It shows me that this salesperson is actively trying to avoid assumptions and wants to know more about me.
Another way specialty retailers can avoid bias is by hiring a more diverse staff—and not just in the accounting or purchasing departments. You need females on the show floor and out in the field. Every year, I attend the CEDIA trade show, which is where custom installers see and receive training on the latest AV and home-automation wares, and the vast majority of them are male. The luxury AV market lags far behind other consumer electronics categories like computers and gaming when it comes to gender diversity (or diversity in general, to be frank).
Show, Don’t Tell
No matter how tech-savvy a person is, they probably didn’t come into your store to see a box sitting idle on a display shelf and get a rundown of the specs. They can get that on the Internet. They came to experience something, and if you give them a good experience, you’re more likely to earn that sale.
I’ve read a lot of press releases over the years, and I can confidently state that reading about a cool, new feature is never as effective as seeing that feature in action. You read it on paper and think, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” But then you see a demo in action, and you’re like, “Okay, that’s awesome. I want that.”
I think the need to experience products and systems in action is especially important for women. As I wrote in a story many years ago for HomeTheaterReview.com, women generally care more about the result than the process. While men may enjoying digging into the nuts and bolts of the particular pieces in an AV or home automation system, a woman is more likely to be swayed by the experiential result of all those pieces working in synergy. Let her experience the luxury of a luxury home cinema system—where the push of a button on a beautifully streamlined touchscreen controller dims lights, lowers
I think the need to experience products and systems in action
is especially important
shades, and queues up the perfect music or movie. Show her the many ways smart home products and an advanced control system can work together all around the house to make daily tasks easier.
To quote myself, “The best salesmen are equally deft at selling the process to the man and the result to the woman.”
Ease Up on the Upsell
Trust is the key to building long-term customers, and for me and most women I know, nothing destroys trust faster than the upsell.
I go to the same shop every time I need to get my car’s oil changed, because it was the one place that didn’t originally push me to deal with 10 others “problems” with my car when I brought it in. Now, when they say I really need to replace a certain filter, I trust that it’s true. Likewise, I won’t take my puppy to the vet that’s always pushing their own upscale product line of food and supplements. Or the dentist who’s always pushing elective procedures my insurance won’t cover.
And I won’t shop at a specialty AV retailer where I feel like they’re always trying to sell me more than I need or want. I know profit margins are lean these days, but if you can resist the urge to upsell now, it could pay dividends from a loyal customer in the long run.
Meet Them Where They’re At
Of course, the above suggestions are moot if there are no women to sell to. If you can’t get the female shoppers to come to you, consider taking the experience to them.
Specialty retailers will sometimes host listening events, where they invite people in to hear a hot new product. In my experience at these events, the audience is almost entirely male, and the demo usually takes place in a small, dark room in the back of the shop. This might be an effective way to appeal to the audio enthusiast, but you may need to think outside that box in order to get your product offerings in front of more women.
Consider partnering with a local gallery to show off both art and tech together. Or do an event at a local home goods store, where you can demo how custom home automation and smart products can improve your kitchen, living room, etc. Even getting a booth at the local street fair or farmer’s market to highlight some of the more basic products in your line can help get your name out there. Sometimes you have to start small. As I mentioned above, it’s all about building trust, and that might have to happen one smart speaker at a time.
Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.