Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Holiday Fun at Guitar Center

I rarely shop at Guitar Center these days. I used to stop in to the local store periodically a few years back, and spent a decent amount of money there. The direction the chain has gone in the past few years has made it unappealing to shop there. The prices are not competitive, generally speaking, and the service is not good. I've read on a bunch of forums about how GC's management decisions are the proximate cause of this, as they result in virtually no long-term employees at these stores, making it difficult to develop a personal relationship with a sales rep.

In my experience, the reps that they do have are quite ill-informed about the product lines GC carries, and are unaware of significant product lines that their store doesn't carry. For instance, the local keyboard rep had never heard of Nord. It's hard to have an intelligent gear discussion with someone who doesn't even know what's on the market.

GC does have a price match policy, but given that they provide no tech support and no returns on "special order" items, it seems silly to ask them to price match an online retailer, especially one that offers tech support.

As well, I've gone to a few of their holiday "list" sales over the years, but found that even being the first one in the door, didn't mean that you'd get any deals. Several times, the items I wanted off the list (which is handed to you as you enter) were not available/allegedly sold out, despite the fact that I was first into the store. Incompetence or dishonesty? Either way, not appealing.

That said, sometimes, a last minute gear requirement means I have to pick something up there. So, Monday morning, I headed over to buy a pair of speaker poles and a direct box. One of my poles had acted up the day before, and I needed a quick solution. Before heading over, I checked the price for a pair online. A quick search on the GC website showed a pair of Ultimate Support TS 90B speaker stands for $159. At my GC, they had these in stock, so I told the salesman that I'd like a pair. The pair rang up as $200. When I told the salesman that they were $159 on the GC website, he and his manager made skeptical noises, assuring me that $100 per pole was a good "sale" price, and that they'd never seen them on sale for less. The salesman then went into their in-store system and showed me how a search didn't turn up this price. The experience reminded me of this Best Buy story.

I told the clerk to cancel the stands and that I'd order them online. He made some some sarcastic comments about how he'd love to know where I'm ordering them from, etc. So, I took the direct box I'd already paid for and left. When I got home, I went back to the GC website, where I easily found the same $159 price for the pair. I was tempted to order them online, but the online store is backordered and I needed them ASAP. So, I printed out the page and went back in to the local GC where the rep matched their own price. Neither he nor his manager (who needed to approve the price match) apologized for essentially accusing me of lying about the price earlier. They also didn't apologize for the inconvenience of making two trips to buy the poles. In short, a customer service fail! I'm not likely to be back.

This is the second customer service fail I've experienced with GC over Memorial Day.

Two years ago, I had an issue with them as well.

That Memorial Day, I was looking for an SKB case for an 88 key keyboard. The GC website announced a sale, so I checked the SKB case pricing out. The page listed the case at $300 (it's usually closer to $500) with the annotation "new lower price" prominently featured. In contrast, the sale pages all had flags that said "sale" on them. I called around a few local stores to find one that had the size I needed in stock. One did. Since I was heading out to play two gigs that day and two the next and couldn't easily make it to the store over the weekend, I asked if the price was good that weekend only. If it was, I'd have asked a friend to pick one up for me. The salesperson assured me that they'd honor that price afterwards too, as the website says "new lower price" not "sale." Given the assurance that they'd honor that price, I went into that GC on Wednesday, at which time I was informed that they would not honor the quote, because the website no longer had them listed at $300. That was a change that must have happened that day, as the website had showed the $300 price on Tuesday. Despite finding the $300 price on Google, and the verbal assurance I'd be given, the store refused to honor the salesman's commitment. I left without buying the case.

Instead, I turned to craigslist, buying a mint Roland digital piano in mint SKB flight case for less then GC wanted just for the case. The piano had been purchased by an elderly gentleman who used the case to take it home from the store. The case had been used exactly twice and was in perfect condition. I sold the Roland on eBay and wound up with a brand new SKB case plus cash in my pocket.

Prediction. If Guitar Center doesn't drastically change their business model soon, specifically with regard to pricing and customer service. they will soon be out of business.