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The Digital Arena shifts gears

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Story by Marilyn Sanford

Vancouver is emerging as one of the 21st century’s most cosmopolitan and modern cities, transforming the architecture and design of our homes and offices. Along with the dynamic new condos and neighbourhoods being created, major changes are also occurring in Vancouver’s electronics world. Anybody who has thought about or purchased a flat panel TV and surround sound system for their family room will attest to this. If it’s not the array of choices and options, it’s the

logistics of coordination, installation and the hook-up of services. After navigating through this daunting process, many of you are left asking: ‘how did this get so out of hand?’ The consumer electronics industry is shifting at speeds never experienced before. In the past, we’d wander down to the closest audio video (A/V) shop, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, play with all the gear, find a delightful A/V geek to educate us and bring home an exciting box that turned into a slightly challenging Sunday morning project.

Today, not only are we too busy and distracted, we recognize that making informed choices in consumer electronics is a much more formidable task. The competitive marketplace, to no surprise is undergoing fundamental change. This year, one of Vancouver’s premier A/V retail shops, boasting 25 years in service, transitioned completely to a custom installation shop with a location off the beaten track. They are now geared more for the logistics of designing, selling and installing custom home electronic solutions than selling boxes off the shelf.

On the other end of the spectrum are the mega stores and their vast offerings, which have also had to shifting market realities and consumer needs. After years of dealing with returns from frustrated customers, the mega retailers have begun to offer custom installation services for their home electronics customers. As the industry shifts gears, consumers face new, also shifting, retail experiences. We are saying goodbye to the simpler world of take-home electronics, where our toughest decision was one between quality vs price.

Today’s retail landscape is divided where you can choose from the promise of best prices through big box retailers and the internet, (often accompanied by confusion, shallow or conflicting sales knowledge and uncertain home installation), or the emerging niche custom shops, rich on knowledge and customer commitment and finally to the high end retail shops climbing ever higher with their specialty products. The world of the manufacturer is also shifting.

Where they once sought competitive opportunity by offering exclusive solutions that restricted the consumer to their brand only, many are now collaborating and embracing connectivity. They realize that consumers are savvy and anxious to make choices that are more functional and fun.

The format wars of Beta vs VHS and HD DVD vs Blu-Ray seldom serve the consumer. It is better to collaborate and move forward faster with better solutions

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Never before have we seen such dramatic changes in consumer electronics. Digital media permeates every aspect of our lives, offering a rich suite of applications in our homes. Custom and retail sellers now find themselves offering technologies less known to them, such as networks, controls and communications. And many consumers intuitively want to hang back until the dust settles, until they have a clearer idea of what they are getting and how much they need to spend. Over the past decade the industry has missed the mark. Many consumers are frustrated, having spent significant dollars expecting simplicity, connectivity and support, instead only to find failed systems and poor or

non-existent support. With growing concern for energy management, the convergence of technologies in our homes, the edict in the US to be digital by 2009 and the pure frenzy of our lifestyles, we will be leaning more on technology to help us manage our lives. As a consumer, making a decision about who installs the system is as important as what to install. It is very easy for an eager technician to set up shop and offer installation service with or without product offerings. There is a very low barrier to entry for new companies. As well, there is little effective legislation shepherding new technologies or new systems into the consumer’s home.

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The industry is working to bridge these gaps. Many associations are offering certification programmes to train installers and their companies. CEDIA, (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, founded in 1989) is leading the way, offering not only technical certifications, but business programmes as well. They are raising the bar, by making it mandatory for their members to become certified and they are working hard to influence legislators to create regulations that allow the industry to grow while protecting the consumer. Consumers do have tools in their control to help make an informed decision and minimize the risk of being over promised and under delivered.. When choosing a retail or custom electronics company they need to ask:

• How long the installation company has been in business?
• Is the company insured?
• Are the technicians certified?
• Is the company committed to internal training of their technicians or are they primarily using contract labour?
• Does the company have a service department?
• What is their commitment to proper documentation, design and supervised project management?
• Will they provide follow-up references?
• Is the company a CEDIA member?
• How long the installation company has worked with a product supplier?
• Will the company offer you a demonstration?

The technology available today in the consumer electronics world offers you an unprecedented quality of cultural life but can also be intimidating and confusing. To find your way through the maze, CEDIA offers a dealer finder service at It is a great starting place and will provide you a solid interview process to significantly reduce risks and ensure you find the right product, at the right price, installed to your satisfaction.

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