For advice on how to improve online sales, plus much more, we turned to Reverb CEO David Mandelbrot.
Although most stores have been reopened for some time now, the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the landscape of retail. If it isn’t already, online retail must be incorporated into your business as a significant source of sales. For advice on how to improve online sales, plus much more, we turned to Reverb CEO David Mandelbrot. Enjoy.
The Music & Sound Retailer: First, we hope you have been safe. Many MI retailers have had to close their doors during the COVID-19 scare. Others remained open, but foot traffic was way down. This makes online sales even more important. How can they replace some of the lost store sales with online business?
David Mandelbrot: It has been heartbreaking to hear from retailers in the industry who have had to close locations or lay off employees. That being said, for many of the dealers who are able to ship safely, we are seeing their Reverb sales more than make up for lost in-store sales. In fact, as many of the largest retailers deal with warehouse backlog and shipping delays, our sellers are stepping up to the plate and meeting the high demand that we’re seeing. Based on the success that many of our sellers are seeing online, it’s clear that as people spend more time at home, they’re turning to musical instruments to ease their minds.
The Retailer: What are some best practices for retailers selling online that can make the most impact?
Mandelbrot: Right now, it’s all about helping buyers feel confident about their ability to quickly receive purchases they’re making online. We’ve taken steps on our end to help with this, like adding messaging on the site that lets consumers know that the vast majority of items are being shipped within 72 hours (although in many cases, we’re seeing sellers within 24 hours.) Sellers can help buyers feel more confident by being extra transparent about the gear they’re selling through detailed descriptions and photos. We’re also recommending that retailers “over-communicate” with all buyers about the status of their orders. We are always blown away by the kindness of our community, and we have found buyers to be especially understanding during this time if you let them know upfront about, for example, a potential shipping delay.
Part of selling more gear online means listing more gear online — including both new and used gear, NOS (new old stock), floor models, mint items and other gear retailers may not have been as aggressive about listing online previously. Manchester Music Mill, as an example, has been working to list the entirety of its inventory online during this time. Instruments that had been sitting in their store for months — including a beautiful vintage 1966 Jose Ramirez 1A classical guitar — are now finding new homes with online buyers. Now is also a great time for retailers to evaluate the pricing on their gear that isn’t MAP-restricted and adjust based on what they’re seeing in the market.
Finally, consumers are understandably concerned about shipping as they experience delays from large companies like Amazon that are dealing with warehouse backlog. To ensure a seamless shipping experience, we recommend using UPS, FedEx or DHL for all shipments. In general, packages from sellers are getting delivered to their destination without issue or delay — even in the areas most impacted by COVID-19.
The Retailer: Once the coronavirus scare slows (or is past us), what are some permanent changes we may see in the retail space?
Mandelbrot: Since the onset of this situation, we’ve seen brands and retailers alike shift their priorities from in-store to online sales. Examples include Taylor, who announced that all dealers are authorized to sell their products on Reverb, something that only select dealers were able to do previously. Strymon, which historically hasn’t allowed dealers to sell brand-new inventory anywhere online, also allowed its dealers to list brand new on Reverb for the first time ever. We’ve also run extremely successful promotions with retailers and brands like Orangewood Guitars and Focusrite, who saw a significant increase in online orders. I think this increased focus on ecommerce will remain as we move forward.
Based on conversations we’ve had with sellers, I think retailers, in particular, will come out of this pandemic with a new appreciation for and approach to selling online. Sellers who take pride in the attributes of their physical location — the store’s personality, the expertise of its staff and the overall quality of their customer service — are seeing more clearly how those qualities can shine through in their online operations. Not only that, but they’re seeing how an incredible online experience that mirrors the service they provide in-store leads to increased sales from buyers all over the world. Dealers who are honing their ecommerce skills during this time will continue to devote more resources to their online operations and, as a result, see continued success.
The Retailer: Even after the crisis slows or is past us, do you think consumers will change their buying habits?
Mandelbrot: We’ve been encouraged by the influx of new buyers we’ve seen during this time, as well as the increase in pro audio orders among players who’ve traditionally purchased guitar or drum gear on Reverb. It’s apparent that while at home, beginners are learning to play, and more experienced players are experimenting with new sounds and recording.
As time goes on, our industry has a huge opportunity to help both types of players continue to hone their skills and make music. For us, that means creating videos, articles, guides, and other content to help players stay inspired and feel informed ahead of their next purchase. For sellers, it means providing a great online experience for these buyers to build loyalty.
The Retailer: During the crisis, we have seen people in a different light, mainly at their homes in online chats, etc. Is there a way MI retailers can capitalize on this so their customers know them better?
Mandelbrot: As I’ve watched some of my favorite local shops and restaurants close their doors during this time, I’ve been more eager than ever to support independent and family-owned businesses. I have to imagine there are many others who feel the same way.
As we increasingly shop from our computers and phones, retailers should absolutely think through the ways in which they can showcase the real people that are behind the musical instruments consumers are bringing into their homes. While this could include creating a video or blog post that gives more insight into the team members who make your store great, retailers can also showcase their store’s unique personality online through the descriptions they write about the gear they’re selling, the style of their photos, the quality of their customer service and more.
The Retailer: With shelter-in-place orders that took place throughout the country, playing music seems like it could be a good way to pass the time during lockdown. Have you seen this? If so, what MI products are consumers most buying?
Mandelbrot: Yes, we have definitely seen an increased interest in playing music as people are spending more time at home. It is apparent that people are turning to music-making for stress relief, personal development and entertainment. We are seeing really strong order volume in line with our busier times of the year. In particular, we’re seeing an influx of new buyers, and among these new buyers, we’re seeing an increase in acoustic guitar, synthesizer, keyboard and pro audio orders. Based on the types of gear they’re purchasing, many of these new buyers appear to be beginners.
Players of all levels seem to be making electronic music and experimenting with beats at home. Compared to this time last year, we’ve seen a significant increase in synthesizer, keyboard and beat-production equipment purchases, particularly among new buyers. In fact, compared to this time last year, searches on Reverb for MIDI keyboards, drum machines and MIDI controllers are each up over 100 percent.
We’re seeing an increase in pro audio orders, particularly among people who’ve traditionally purchased guitar or drum gear on Reverb. In other words, it appears that guitarists and drummers are purchasing their first audio interface, microphone or desktop synthesizer, among other pro audio gear. As music-makers continue to stay home, they’re investing in gear for their home rigs and studios: mics, speakers, audio interfaces, music-making software and more.
In addition, stringed instruments remain extremely popular. We’re seeing a significant increase in new acoustic guitar purchases, particularly among new buyers. Recognizing the increased demand for acoustic guitars, Orangewood Guitars ran a promotion on Reverb that allowed it to increase its Reverb sales by several orders of magnitude. Ukulele searches on Reverb are also up 99 percent compared to this time last year.
Finally, we’ve seen an uptick in the amount of new gear being purchased on the site. For music-makers, Reverb is a reliable option for new gear, since the inventory available is spread across sellers and locations rather than centralized to, for example, a warehouse. Currently (at the time of this interview), nearly all of our top sellers are still shipping gear, and the vast majority of items are being shipped inn under 72 hours and received on time.
The Retailer: In what ways, if any, has Reverb had to change its business due to the health and economic crisis?
Mandelbrot: We take very seriously the role that Reverb plays in the lives of music retailers. While our goal has always been to help buyers and sellers from all over the world connect online, we’re hyper-focused at this time on connecting buyers with the right sellers and helping sellers support their businesses with crucial online sales.
As the situation has evolved, we’ve continued to do everything we can to promote our sellers and to make it clear that they are “open for business” online and shipping quickly. We are aggressively promoting sellers’ inventory across all of our marketing channels, and we have even set up a designated email (firstname.lastname@example.org) where sellers can email us about deals that we can consider for additional promotion on the site.
When the realities of this virus first started to emerge, our team members were among the first phone calls that many of our sellers made. We kept track of the questions they asked, and within 24 hours, we created an entire section on our website dedicated to helping them navigate this uncertain time. We have also adjusted several of our policies with our sellers and the situation in mind, including things like removing negative seller feedback received due to circumstances outside of the seller’s control.
We’ll continue to keep our Help Center updated as the situation evolves as well as make adjustments to the site, like making it easy to access information about scheduling a USPS or UPS pickup when sellers are buying a shipping label. We’ll also continue to collaborate directly with retailers and manufacturers to find new ways to connect them with music-makers during this time.
The Retailer: On a company basis, Reverb is now part of Etsy. Tell us how that transition has gone.
Mandelbrot: For me, joining the Reverb team and simultaneously joining the Etsy team was really exciting. Like Reverb, Etsy supports artists, makers and businesses of all sizes. The Etsy team has grown their business by building a marketplace that is just as much an online community as it is an ecommerce site. Importantly, Etsy has been wonderful in supporting us as we continue to build Reverb as a separate entity created for the music industry by a team of music lovers.
When the acquisition was announced, we indicated that Reverb would operate as a standalone business, and that has remained true. At the same time, I believe it has been a benefit to all of our users that our team has been able to gain knowledge from Etsy’s experience. For example, it has been incredibly helpful to collaborate with Etsy as we navigate the ongoing COVID-19 situation and ensure that we’re taking the right steps to keep our team members and community safe. There’s no playbook for the current situation, so having the experience and knowledge of both teams has greatly benefited us.
The Retailer: Anything else to add?
Mandelbrot: There is no denying that this situation has had some devastating effects for many businesses. We’re finding hope in the fact that people all over the world are turning to musical instruments to ease their minds during this difficult time. Now more than ever, we’re proud to enable the gear sellers and makers that help make the world more musical.
To read more interviews from the Music & Sound Retailer, click here.