My church recently decided to upgrade from our old analog mixing board to a brand new digital mixing console. The interesting part of this process was that they did not buy it through a local AV contractor. They purchased the sound board online through a company that specializes in phone and internet box sales. This got me thinking about the trend over the past few years in which more and more Audio Visual end-users purchase equipment from online sources instead of the local dealer or shop. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? And why is this becoming the norm?
In my experience, most people who are in charge of or run AV systems (whether at churches, schools, corporations, etc.) buy most of their loose items over the internet. Quite frankly this is because it’s easier than getting the sales guy from the local place to call you back, figure out what products they sell, write up a quote, approve the quote (with revisions), get the equipment ordered, call the salesman to figure out what the order status is, and arrange for pickup/delivery of the items once they available. The typical process could take up to 2 weeks! Or you can pick out what you want on the website, enter your credit card number, and have it in 2 or 3 days. Pretty obvious why you’d buy it online – regardless of the minor price variations you might get. Ultimately, a lot of “box sales” are being done online and local contractors are missing out on the action – simply because their process isn’t convenient and fast.
Buying AV equipment online is fine as long as it can be treated as a disposable item, and as long as it requires no training, service, or support. Without the support of the local contractor it becomes a real pain to get the items serviced or fixed. And if you need any training or advice on how to use it, the online support just doesn’t cut it. It’s almost as bad as calling your cell phone company – you end up talking to some unknown person at some unknown location who listens to your full story only to pass you on to the next person, where you repeat your same story and receive the same results. You hang up the phone with no service, no solution, and nowhere else to go for help. Maddening.
Buying high-tech or high-end audio-video equipment online is like walking a tightrope without a net. Sure, you save a few bucks because you didn’t have to pay for the net. But fall one time, and you’ll never do it again.
So when should you buy from the local AV contractor instead of online? Here’s my advice: If it requires more than 4 screws and 2 connectors to hook up the device – call the contractor. If it has to be set up with a computer and specialized software – call the contractor. If there’s any chance that you will need a loaner if it breaks or that the item will ever need to be serviced/repaired – call the contractor. If you’re just buying loose equipment that doesn’t fit the above criteria, then get out that credit card and order away!