After spending several months shopping for a piano in the U.S., I have come to the conclusion that the piano business needs some changes. I am not an expert in business management, but maybe my observation can spark new thinking in this business.
First, I found the piano business lagging behind other industries in utilizing the Internet and new technologies for business purposes. Yes, most piano dealers and distributors have a website, but many of them look like they were built in 1990’s. I have seen broken links and pictures on most of piano companies’ web sites. Of course, I have learned not to judge the quality of a piano brand and piano dealership based on its website, but I do wonder if there is a connection.
Second, most piano dealers and distributors’ website provide very limited information on their pianos. In this day and age, I would expect an up-to-date piano inventory on a dealer’s web site but I have never seen one. Furthermore, when dealers post their inventory on the web site, they usually just show a few pictures of the pianos. Isn’t piano a music instrument? Why can’t you take a video of the piano been played and put it on the web site? And while we are on the topic of pictures, how come piano companies only have pictures of polished ebony finish? Why can’t you have pictures of every finish on your web site? Take a look at clothing retail web sites like hm.com, they show you multiple angles of each item and the availability of each size. Can’t piano companies do something like that?
Another problem I have with piano companies’ web site is the lack of detailed specs for the pianos. Some piano companies provide more detailed specs and some provide none. I think it should be the responsibility of the piano dealer to find out everything they can about the piano they are selling and provide them in a standardized format on their web sites. For example, take a look at the Phone Arena – it is a web site about mobile phones. They provide detailed and uniformed specs on every mobile phones you can find in the market and they allow you to compare cell phones side by side. Phone Arena also provides expert reviews and allows users to comment on each phone. Other industries have learned that building a community and social network is the way to attract more business. As a piano dealer, if you have confidence in the quality of your pianos and services, why don’t you let your buyers comment on the pianos you are selling and your services? You can also allow your buyers to post video of them playing the piano on your website. As a piano shopper, I would love to hear what your buyers have to say about the piano they purchased from you and their purchasing experience.
Other than the voice, touch is another important aspect in piano shopping, but it is an aspect that is difficult to show on a website. A shopper really has to go in to a store to experience the touch. However, the cruel fact is that piano dealers provide no information on the touch of their pianos on their web site. None! Zero! Why can’t you measure the touch weight of each piano in your inventory and post it along with other specs? That way, shoppers at least get a sense of the touch weight compared to other pianos in your inventory.
Third, most first time piano shoppers struggle with the correct size of piano for their room. This is a problem facing also by the furniture industry. However, many furniture companies have thought about this and developed online tools to deal with this problem. For example, on Havertys’ web site they provide a Room Planner that you can draw a room and plan the arrangement of furniture pieces. Why can’t piano companies offer something like that?
Lastly, I understand that piano companies are in the business to make money. As fewer people are buying pianos these days, everyone is trying to find new markets. Some are running piano studios on the side and some offer performance avenues. There are two things I think most people are already aware but I will say it again. First, there are a large U.S. population lives in the rural/suburban areas that do not have quick access to piano galleries. Even for those live near or in a big city, most of them do not have access to more than a few piano brands. If you can establish a regional or national network of local piano technicians and movers that will help you deliver the piano and prep the piano at the customer’s home to the customer’s satisfaction, I think you will be able to expand your market beyond your local area. You can, for example, provide an instant quote on your web site regarding the price of shipping to the customer’s home including the service of prepping the piano. I think the more information you can provide to your potential customers and the more convenient the purchasing process is, the more likely you will earn their business. After the sales are done, you should continue engaging your customers by inviting them to post their playing video on your web site or link to your Facebook page so you have a community of piano lovers.
My last last point is about the population shift. We all know that Latino is the fastest growing population in the U.S, but I have not seen a piano company targeting this potential group of customers. I am not exactly sure how you would do it, but it is just a thought.