Essential add-ons

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In hard economic times, consumers have to make tough decisions on what they spend their disposable income on. In these austere times, you could be forgiven for thinking that the accessories market would suffer a sharp decline in sales, but some segments are bucking the trend, notes Charlotte Myson, Sony product marketing manager, home entertainment and sound, “In audio, the economy is creating the opposite trend to what might be expected. Average transactional value is going up as technology such as NFC (near-field communication, short-range wireless) is integrated into products – an example of this is wireless headphones such as Sony’s MDR-1RBT’s.”

“Headphones are one of the few growing markets in the CE industry. This market is being driven by two things; smartphones and fashion”

Sony’s Charlotte Myson adds that customers appreciate improved audio quality, and this is especially important when consumers are regularly listening to compressed music files.  Sony’s Bluetooth and Noise Cancelling headphones analyse where audio information is lost and replace it, giving a fuller sound.  “Consumers recognise the value of boosting their listening enjoyment,” she says, “and USB chargers are becoming more essential as more of us regularly carry smart devices like a smartphone, e-reader, MP3 player or a tablet, most of which are battery intensive,”

Accessories in the recession

Steve Reichert, Armour Home’s PR director says, “Of course, in a tough economic climate, consumers become increasingly value conscious and will want to drive a harder bargain for their money. However, quality is always important, not least because quality and value go hand in hand and are definitely not mutually exclusive. When things are tight, sophisticated consumers want products that will last longer and deliver superior performance.”

“No-one buys a hi-fi system without listening to it first, so why not let your customers listen to headphones that they might consider buying?”

For Dominic Feeney, consumer product manager at Sennheiser UK, “One of the big trends we are seeing is the return to popularity of full-size headphones, with many consumers opting towards purchasing larger, over-ear or in-ear style headphones. And consumers are purchasing different types of headphones to suit different activities, such a noise-cancelling headphones for travel.” Sennheiser has developed products aimed at the younger generation, such as the Amperior, a fashionable MP3 over-ear headphone.  “No consumer should have to substitute style over substance and that is what we are trying to achieve with products like the Amperior and our recently launched luxury on-ears, Momentum,”  he adds.

“Put compatible products together to create a demonstration that represents how a customer would use them in real life”

Helen Booth, headphone product manager at Panasonic, says, “Headphones are one of the few growing markets in the CE industry. This market is being driven by two things; smartphones and fashion. The launch of the iPhone in recent years has increased the demand for headphones with built-in microphone for added convenience. The boom in the design/style overhead models means that it is no longer just about sound quality, but how the product looks.”

“We believe that quality still does count. In consumer research carried out by Vogel’s it was shown that ‘sturdy construction’ was one of the top concerns of consumers when purchasing a bracket.  And we think that the Vogel’s lifetime guarantee addresses this concern,” says James Attfield, Vogel’s UK general manager. Simon Beard, proprietor of independent Godden & Curtis, Sherborne, Dorset, thinks that selling high quality products should mean stocking high quality accessories, “We previously sold cheap Chinese-made TV brackets, and we decided to stock Vogel’s products. It makes sense to stock a quality brand when you are selling brands such as Panasonic. After all, what is the sense of using a cheap bracket when you are coupling it with high quality TVs? Once customers see what quality brackets can do, price doesn’t come into it.” 

Vogel’s James Attfield says, “Most consumers who go into a shop to buy a bracket will be looking for a basic flat design, but once they have seen a demonstration of a fully articulated bracket, they will be won over.  At present, 60% of the brackets sold in the UK are flat designs, so we are missing a big trick here.” And new products offer new opportunities: the huge sales of tablet computers has seen Vogel’s launch the RingO universal mounting system for iPad – a stylish and flexible system which allows users to mount their tablet virtually anywhere.

Best sellers

When it comes to best selling AV accessories, Armour Home’s Steve Reichert says, “Our biggest selling AV accessories are QED cables (HDMI, Optical and Coaxial digital audio interconnects and loudspeaker cables); Alphason TV stands and Alphason Pro wall brackets. The huge numbers of Q Acoustics home cinema speakers we sell could be reasonably described as AV accessories as well; along with many Grado and PSB headphones.” Vogel’s says its THIN 345 bracket is the company’s best selling product in the UK.

Sony’s Charlotte Myson says, “Headphones represent a massive market right now which is seeing continuous growth.  As a whole, there is growth in audio related accessories, as music has had such a big resurgence since it became more accessible to people using smart devices. Portable docking stations are doing very well too.”  Sennheiser’s Dominic Feeney says, “We have seen increasing growth for smartphone headphones, and their popularity is indicative of the current trend for people to upgrade their bundled headphones.” Portable products are driving headphone sales and Sennheiser recently launched its CX 275 headphones, which are optimised for MP3, iPod, iPhone, CD players and portable gaming systems.

Point-of-sale support

The good news for independents is that many accessories manufacturers offer support and assistance. “There are various display racks and PoS for QED cables and Alphason’s stands and brackets. And, as well as our sales reps, who offer their sales experience with regard to our products. Brand managers are constantly visiting stores to deliver product and sales training,” says Armour Home’s Steve Reichert.

 “No-one buys a hi-fi system without listening to it first, so why not let your customers listen to headphones that they might  consider buying? We are currently working with some of our key independent retailers to ensure that we meet their point-of-sale needs, as we believe this is a crucial aspect to selling audio equipment.” says Sennheiser’s Dominic Feeney. Panasonic’s Helen Booth says, “We are in the process of producing a range of PoS materials to support ou
r dealers and are looking to implement display units so we can assist the sale.” 

Sony’s Charlotte Myson says her company has developed informative and engaging video materials to help customers understand the increasing complexities of the company’s AV accessories, and to make it as simple as possible to understand the true benefits of different products.  “We are getting feedback from retailers that showing these videos are helping to convert sales, which is positive to hear!” she notes. Sony is also developing QR codes that are designed to sit next to the product price ticket. Customers will be able to scan the QR code with their smartphone and do some extra research online. Sony also has an extensive retail training programme which involves sending out product demonstrators to as many stores as possible.

Vogel’s offers a wide range of colourful point-of-sale materials including, demonstration boards.  “Our packaging is very clear and gives all product details,” says James Attfield, “Since functionality is a key sales driver, it’s important that packaging shows diagrams indicating if the product will turn, tilt or be flat against the wall. Screen size is the next driver and needs to be prominently displayed and highlighted on the packaging. Consumers think that buying a wall mount is complicated. By making things simple and understandable, you take away one of the major sales barriers”.

Vogel’s brand strategy ‘Expanding Experiences’ was developed out of extensive market research into shopper trends and shopper behaviour carried out by the company in 2011. “Using this information, Vogel’s has optimised its retail support programme with a complete self-selling concept, which includes a new range of simplified packaging, self-guiding display materials and well – structured planograms,” adds James Attfield.

How to sell accessories

Accessories manufacturers can do their bit to help drive sales, but the key to success lies in the retailer’s hands. So what are the top tips for independents wanting to sell accessories? Vogel’s James Attfield, says that retailers completing a television sale should, “Ask the consumer ‘where do you intend putting the TV?’ which will then lead you into `have you ever considered mounting it on the wall?’” He adds that retailers should demonstrate a fully functional bracket to show just how versatile it is.  “Our research shows that once given a demonstration, four out of every five consumers will buy!”  Panasonic Booth’s advice is that, “Consumers have different headphones for different needs, so it’s about placing the right product in the right place. At Panasonic, we have slimmed down our range of headphones so it’s easier for retailers to sell a specific model for the consumer needs. For example, we have tried to select a model for each situation, such as the HJE290 for work, the HS33 for sports and the HTX7 – for fashion.”

“The key for independents starts with a holistic consumer experience. It is important to offer informed buying advice and especially with the higher end home entertainment headphones, a demonstration is essential,” says Sennheiser’s Dominic Feeney, “Independent retailers can often miss a trick by not offering a representative range of headphones to suit different needs. This is especially true of the more premium end headphones that the national retailers often don’t stock due to the perceived turnover in relation to their average customer purchase. There is also a greater opportunity to cross-sell with the more catered sales approach offered by independents. If someone is buying a hi-fi system, there’s a high probability that they will also want a high-quality pair of headphones to accompany it.”

For Sony’s Charlotte Myson, the trick is to, “put compatible products together to create a demonstration that represents how a customer would use them in real life.  So, a mobile phone equipped with NFC could sit next to an NFC speaker dock and a pair of NFC headphones. Accessory displays always hold more appeal if they are brightly coloured and well stocked.  A couple of lonely packages hanging on a hook hold no attraction, whilst a well-stocked, well laid-out display space will draw the eye. Position accessories alongside the hardware they are designed to work with.”

Armour Home’s Steve Reichert says, “Selling good quality accessories is very easy and, if you are not doing it already, it will have a hugely positive impact on your profitability.”

Rules of selling accessories

•       Choose good accessories – credibility is everything.

•       Choose ones that will genuinely enhance the consumer’s enjoyment of their main purchase.

•       Display accessories prominently.

•       Never, ever attempt to ‘ambush’ your customer by introducing an accessory at the end of the sale.

•       Introduce them right from the start, use them and explain how they will help the customer.

          By Armour’s Steve Reichert

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