AV Stores: An Anthropological Study...

Discussion in 'Displays' started by Rich H, Apr 25, 2003.

  1. Rich H

    Rich H Second Unit

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    Folks,

    I admit to a perverse fascination with the contradictions I find in most AV stores, which can be summed up simply: They are in the business of selling televisions, yet seem to do everything in their power to make their product look terrible.

    In shopping for a CRT recently for my Pop, I once again encountered this paradox, and actually attempted to confront it.

    STORE 1: Mid-level AV store, mixing some low-priced gear with many high-end displays - plasmas, latest RPTVs and best CRTs - but with "so will you be purchasing this today?" attitude.

    They have a DVD feed of "Dumb And Dumber" running on all the displays in their "high-end" section (plasmas, RPTVs).
    It is, of course, obviously the 4:3 version, being stretched to fill all these widescreen 16:9 displays, resulting in a crappy distorted image. Here's the first exchange, verbatim:

    Me: "I have to ask you this: I'm curious why you've chosen to play a DVD with a 4:3 aspect ratio on these displays."

    Salesman: Dull, uncomprehending stare. "huh?"

    Me: I mean, you've chosen a 4:3 DVD - a square image - to play on these widescreen TVs, and you have the displays stretching the image to fill the screen. Which is why the people on the displays look all stretched, distorted, and fuzzier than they should be.

    Salesman: Dull, uncomprehending stare. "Oh, that's just a DVD that we put on the screens..."

    Me: (Slightly disoriented by that non-sequitor) "But if you want to fill the widescreen TVs, why don't you just choose any widescreen 16:9 - sized DVD transfer - which will fill the screen with an undistorted image. I mean, you want to sell these things, right? I wouldn't buy a display that looked like this.

    Salesman: Dull, uncomprehending stare. "He-he...what would you like to purchase today, sir?"

    Another salesman took over and, while I was demoing a Sony CRT told me how wonderful the image was when combined with the progressive scan player he was using. I pointed out he was using the S-Video connection. He said: "Yes, that way you don't need the three cables..."


    STORE 2.

    It has pretentions to "serious home theater," with many dedicated rooms. Most of the HD displays are displaying HD. Of course, those widescreen displays not showing HD are playing DVDs, virtually every display on the "wrong" aspect ratio.
    I encounter a Panasonic 50" plasma and ask if it's all right to spin a DVD I've brought. "No problem, sir."
    Of course, the plasma is set in "ZOOM" mode, unnecessarily blowing up the image and smearing it. I ask for the remote.
    No one knows where it is. While the guy is looking for it I approach the manager and some other salesman. "You have a very expensive plasma display there and it is stuck in ZOOM mode, which is seriously degrading the image. Do you have the remote?"

    The manager shrugs, so do the salesman. "Sorry, no remote."

    Me: "Don't you think it's in your best interest to find it?
    If you want to sell such an expensive display, don't you want the best image it can put out? I certainly wouldn't buy based on it's current image, with the distortion."

    Manager: Shrugs shoulders, total, complete, utter disinterest in pursuing this idea. "Sorry." Turns away to salesmen.

    STORE 3. Salesman in high end store showing me displays, the conversation turns to plasmas (I own a Panasonic plasma). He says: "They're all nice, but personally I'd say the best value are the Sony plasmas we have, the ones set in the nice clear plastic (XBR)." Anyone who knows something about plasma knows Sony are the WORST value, dollar for dollar, of any plasma....the XBR models are much more expensive as you are paying for the "Jetson's" look, while taking a display that is outperformed by many plasmas half the price.

    RESULT: Not a single store had a display set optimally, and in fact did their best to undermine the potential of all their displays. And if I had no knowledge of AV gear, I'd have been seriously led astray by each and every salesman I encountered.

    Un-friggin'-believable. Thank goodness for forums like these where we can learn and exchange information, and not rely on the "experience" of salesmen.

    The end.
     
  2. John-Miles

    John-Miles Screenwriter

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    Amen Rich, I cant agree with you more, too many people are tryign to make a buck and they dont have a clue what they are doing.

    I suspect somewhere in one of those get rich quick packages you see on informercials that there is a "open your own home theater store, people really like them" scheme
     
  3. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    Yep, I see the same thing here. The only exception was when I demoed a Sharp DT-200 projector. Although it was keystoned to hell, it had a nice Firehawk screen and a high-end Arcam DVD player. Probably the best projection I've seen in an HT store. Or, in other words, they didn't f*** it up too much.
     
  4. John-Miles

    John-Miles Screenwriter

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    Perhaps I should add that I am lucky enough to have a local store that knows what they are doing [​IMG]
     
  5. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Producer

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    I think we've all come across this at some point (more often then not I'm afraid) I can't count the number of times I've fixed the aspect ratio's on DVD players that were set to 4:3 even though they're connected to a widescreen TV. I've had very similar discussion about stretching a 4:3 image on widescreen TV's as well and like you no one seems to care[​IMG] I basically use sales guys as someone to run and get the model I want from the store room rather then a source of information.
     
  6. Jesse Skeen

    Jesse Skeen Producer

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    That's why I will NEVER buy a TV at Best Buy, since they run a 16x9 feed to all their sets, showing it squeezed on all the 4x3's. I can only imagine the ignorant statements made by anyone there who's been asked about that.
     
  7. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

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    With a few very laudable exceptions, some of whom frequent this forum, the salespeople in most AV stores are pretty overwhelmed with trying to remember all the quirks and features of all the different models they sell, and a few are almost proud of their ignorance.

    For the most part they have no control over how the sets are connected to sources, and don't know how to get aspect ratios right on every model in the store.

    The scenario I despise is the "lost remote" or, worse, the sales crew that won't let you play with the set to make it look correct. I had one salesperson at a Fry's in Sacramento almost call the cops on me for taking a Sony out of Vivid mode.

    Best Buy always comes in for a lot of criticism on this forum. Their sales force is not the most knowledgeable, admittedly, but they almost always have the remote tethered to the set display and will let you play with it uninterrupted for about as long as you please. This is pretty helpful to folks like us who pretty much know how to "ballpark" adjust sets and select aspect ratios.
     
  8. Rich H

    Rich H Second Unit

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    Sorry, I can't cut these guys any slack at all. I often do my AV shopping in low traffic times during the week days.
    Most of the time I walk in these places...places that actually claim to offer knowledgeable service...the salesman are bored, leaning on the counters chatting. Meanwhile virtually every display around them is badly in need of picture adjustment. We're talking about taking 30 seconds to a minute to adjust a display from looking like total sh*t to looking like something that's worth buying.
    The apathy literally astounds me.

    I'm a nice guy...but I tell ya these guys would be out on their butts if they worked in "my" AV store. (And I'm sure management is just as much to blame as the salesmen).

    Rich H.
     
  9. JohnnyG

    JohnnyG Screenwriter

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  10. BobJ

    BobJ Stunt Coordinator

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  11. Jan Strnad

    Jan Strnad Screenwriter

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    Seems appropriate to me. [​IMG]

    Jan
     
  12. Jesse Blacklow

    Jesse Blacklow Cinematographer

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    On the other end of the spectrum, there are the stores with the know-it-alls who try to blow you away with technical gobbledy-gook. Look, I know how a crossover works and what watts are and so on. Please don't throw terms at me. If I was an average customer, I'd get flustered. This happens a lot at the "boutique" stores. Just let me demo music and movies so I can make up my own mind.

    Another problem I have with these guys is the snob factor. Yes, I own a Harman-Kardon. God forbid it's a brand name receiver. Did I mention those Lexicons and Crowns you are gaga over are made by the same damn company? When I say I'm looking for a reasonably priced speaker, it means "lower," not "mid-to-higher." And finally, I find it amazing that these same stores who deign only to carry the most "distinguished" names in AV equipment only carry Monster Cable or some no-name brand that looks like it would be outdone by RatShack Gold Series. And they wonder why more people are buying online.
     
  13. Steve Carlo

    Steve Carlo Stunt Coordinator

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    Oh man I have to add my 2p after going round all the local A/V shops in the area looking to buy a receiver, set of surround speakers (all of them) and a TV. This is really a rant about one particular shop which didn't seem to want to deal with me...

    First the good:
    Domes in Chesapeake - they know their stuff. Cannot recommend them more highly. I spent 4500 there and visited them nearly 6 times over the course of 2 months, refining, learning, listening until I made my choice. Able to hook up any of the receivers to any of their sources to any of their speakers. This is important as you all know, but one place didn't seem to get that...

    Audio Connection in VA Beach. Claimed to offer best deals on Yamaha (sweet I can save some money), but then tells me that Yamaha is useless like Sony and because I am a Brit I will love the NAD receiver. He shows me a "similar" model, but magically doesn't have the one I would be interested in (read can afford) hooked up to *any* speakers. In fact he doesn't have *any* NAD hooked up to speakers. 2 weeks later I went back, armed with a CD, my wife and more refined knowledge of what I was looking for (having bought a Marantz amp from accessories4less by this time). Saw a different guy, who didn't give a damn about us being interested in a TV, told me he could get me some energy speakers to match my existing ones, and that he would show me their B&W speakers. After being escorted out of the speaker room (still having heard nothing) we left. I'm not sure if he stocked Monster, but I am sure he did. I'm surprised he didn't try and sell us Bose.

    Sears - After I asked them to price match another deal I had been offered (they had already price-matched one deal) they told me to take a hike. Didn't matter that this was a different price. But I guess she didn't want her commission that day.

    *Finally* my hat goes off to the doofus in BestBuy who tried to sell me an extended warranty for an 80 dollar dvd player (costing about 45) on the grounds that if it got dirty it would cost a lot to clean and DVD's players needed to be kept clean. Right oh! I'll make sure to remove the mud off my DVD's before I try and play them.
     
  14. Jesse Blacklow

    Jesse Blacklow Cinematographer

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    I have an addendum regarding the age issue, which also irks me to no end. I'm 24, but I look I'm a senior in high school. Thus, I'm automatically pigeonholed as a guy who wants loud, muddy bass for rock. What, I can't appreciate Bethoveen, Dizzy Gillespie, or the Who along with the Beastie Boys and the Chemical Brothers? Ask me what I want to hear before putting on some alterna-crap. Second, don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. This has happened several times, in varying politeness. One guy even told me that I shouldn't be wasting his time if I didn't have "experience" with home theater. What, I need to go through home theater school?

    More and more local and b&m chain stores are treating their customers like dirt. That's why people are turning to the relatively hassle-free and for the most part cheaper online stores. I know people might jump on me for this, but why bother supporting my local businesses when they refuse to accept that I have brains and opinions?
     
  15. Bob McElfresh

    Bob McElfresh Producer

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    I was in Frys yesterday looking for a Samsung DLP unit. I met a older salesguy (a mechanical engineer). When I commented about picture quality/setup his answer was refereshingly honest:

    "We do nothing to make these sets look good. We use the cheapest cables, split the signals 5-10 times, dont use progressive-scan DVD players."

    Here are the reasons I was able to gleen:

    - The stores sell these HDTV's without needing careful setup/adjustment.

    - Salesmen are there to service customers, not equipment. An un-tended television does not hurt/loose sales like a un-tended customer.

    - You CAN mess up a display if you dont know what you are doing so management discourages customers & employees from making adjustments.

    The only store I have seen with all the HDTV's setup well was a Cambridge Soundworks in San Ramon. The manager Glen is a ISF Calibrationist. He adjusts the floor models during quiet times. I saw him sell 2 HDTV's off the floor on a quiet Tuesday morning before lunch.
     
  16. John-Miles

    John-Miles Screenwriter

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    See thats just it Bob, proper set up will help sell tv's by a huge ammount, but I think the complaints most people ahve ehre are more along the lines of the truly stupid and inane thigns stores do, like the pan and scan lord of the rings stretched to fit a wide screen HDTV I saw at Future shop..... its basically about people doing less than the minimum....
     
  17. Jesse Skeen

    Jesse Skeen Producer

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    I got back at some dimwit Good Guys salesman once for messing up a picture I had perfectly adjusted by going into the service menus and disabling all the front-panel controls on about 10 TVs in the store! [​IMG]
     
  18. Oren

    Oren Stunt Coordinator

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    Actually, I don't blame the stores/salespeople. The truth is, most customers are just as dimwitted.

    I recall years ago being in a computer where a Mac was playing a widescreen DVD. Some dimwit customer walked over and commented about the computer couldn't show the full frame of the movie. I tried to explain it to him, but got "dull, uncomprehending stares."

    More recently, I was in a Costco and a father and son duo were going back and forth between two nearly identical Sony TVs. They just couldn't figure out why one was hundreds of dollars more. I finally stepped in and asked if there is something they're having trouble figuring out, and explained that one was HDTV (ready) and was showing the same DVD movie in progressive scan. At least he got it, and walked out with the HDTV.

    There simply are too few knowledgeable customers to justify extra effort. For most customers (but not all), it makes no difference. Rainbows, screen-door, resolution, interlace/non-interlace, 480i/480p/720p/1080i--none of this affects their buying decision. But size--that's something they can get their heads around. Same with computers: people focus on megahertz and whatnot without fully appreciating the subtleties that affect performance.

    And it's not just technology. Ever talk to a car dealer? They move around from dealer to dealer so often that they don't even bother to learn the different specs. And the truth is that for most car buyers, it's an emotional experience, an impulse buy.

    I like to think that if I were in sales then I would take advantage of my knowledge of the products, but it probably would hurt more than it would help. Most customers would simply get overwhelmed and frustrated, and leave empty-handed.
     
  19. Kevin_Kr

    Kevin_Kr Supporting Actor

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    As someone that has started as an AV salesman and now a GM at a large store I can understand your frustrations. But really when the average customer wants only to know the basics, the few of us elite here expect them to pour out tons of facts and specs that to the majority are useless. Remember it is still sales, why confuse a customer? Can I speak specaneese with customers, somewhat, am I the most knowledgeable about everything, no, do I run a good store, yes, i cater to the majority and attempt to cater to the minority. Is the right way, I'm not sure but it proves to be a succesful business model. Is it important to know what your talking about, yes thats why i am here so much.
     
  20. Scott_AH

    Scott_AH Stunt Coordinator

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    I have to agree with Oren in this case and I'd like to add some thoughts of my own...

    Personally, I love home theater and I love to learn about it but I found out long ago that my hobby is not necessarily everyone else's hobby. At first I tried to pass on what I knew to each customer but quickly found out that this was a waste of time. 99.999% of all my customers come into the store because of some ad they found in the paper or because of a system they heard once at their neighbor's friend's house. This could have been a $500 setup or a $15000 setup for all I know (they certainly don't) but they get it set in their mind that the $149.99 Go Video complete DVD surround system will do the trick for them. It's all but useless to try and teach them anything else. Just trying to explain an optical connection or a 16:9 aspect consumes nearly all the teaching time I can spare. If I were to really try and help the customer understand the product they are buying and how it helps their specific needs better than another product, each sale would become a 2-hour endeavor. This may work for some specialty shops but if a medium-line store like mine worked this way, it would be eaten alive by any of its competitors.

    Now obviously, if most members of this forum walked in they would instantly think of me as an idiot salesman because I have to treat each person as an idiot customer. Most of my customers know literally nothing about what they are buying. If I owned a store that only served "Home Theater Forum" shoppers than I would, of course, completely reset my sales strategy. However, with the public as uninformed as it is, I won't bother to calibrate my sets or waste money trying to give each of my salesmen (who will probably only work for me for 6 months) a decent knowledge of each product. When most of my customer's can't tell the difference between a hi-def and analog set without my explanation, how will they possibly perceive a difference between a Toshiba and a Sharp of equal size?

    Customer: "Well that Sharp sure is a good deal... What's this comb filter thing that the Toshiba has."
    Me: INSERT BASIC COMB FILTER EXPLANATION HERE
    Customer: "Hmmm, I really can't see the difference. The Sharp sure is cheaper. Gimme one of those."

    When this same scenario comes up dozens of times each day, it soon seems ridiculous to have any info on the products beyond their price. You may all be surprised to learn that many of my salesmen with the most A/V experience have often been outsold by the "dumb high-school kid" that I hired part-time and could care less about what he was actually selling. He doesn't know any better so he just sells whatever the customer points at.

    I am sorry to go on and on but I just thought I'd add a thought or two from those of us on the dark side.

    Scott
     

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