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GUEST COMMENT How instrument retailers can fine-tune their finance offering

Music lessons have long been praised as hugely beneficial for children, said to improve everything from verbal and reading skills to self-discipline. For a child with a genuine passion or talent for music, whether their aspirations are to perform on the stage, write the next major hit single or simply jam with their friends, music tuition may well be an essential part of their journey.

It is also an expensive part of their journey.

In 2018, a survey by the Incorporated Society of Musicians revealed that 35% of private music teachers had raised their rates for one-to-one tuition over the course of the previous 12 months. Half an hour of such tuition averaged £32 across the whole of the UK, rising to £40 in central London.

These increasing costs, coupled with rising housing and other living costs, and stagnated wages in many areas, mean that music lessons are remaining an aspiration rather than a reality for many. In November, the Independent reported that families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, earning less than £28,000, are half as likely to have a child taking music lessons than families earning at least £48,000.

Ongoing vs. upfront

Politicians in Scotland are campaigning for music tuition to be provided free in all schools, which would clearly go a long way to reducing the cost burden for families, whilst potentially also having a positive effect on the education system more broadly. And there are other ways for families to cut down the cost of lessons, by going for group tuition rather than one-to-one, or even securing scholarships and additional funding for, particularly talented individuals.

However, tuition is just one piece of the financial puzzle. Another significant expense remains an issue for many aspiring musicians – funding the cost of the necessary equipment. According to Piano Warehouse, for example, a new upright instrument will start at around £2500, whilst Superprof magazine corroborates this, and suggests that even a beginner electric piano will set families back between £100 and £400. And of course, this is before factoring in costs like sheet music, examinations, tuning and maintenance.

The guitar is another hugely popular beginner’s instrument, and whilst these are much cheaper, families may still be spending upwards of £200 to get a quality instrument. And once again, this is before a raft of additional costs, which in the case of guitars may include electrical equipment such as amps.

A squeeze on instrument retailers

All this means that music retailers are in danger of a major squeeze on one of their most important sources of sales – parents purchasing instruments for their children. Yet there is little they can do to reduce the cost of what in many cases are very high-quality and complex pieces of kit. So what can they do?

One area to consider is how that hefty upfront payment can be adjusted in line with customers’ needs – and no, this doesn’t mean slashing prices. Rather, it can mean offering different payment models.

When we undertook research on the habits of today’s consumers, we found that a hefty 34% of people said they would be more likely to spend with an organisation that offers point-of-sale (POS) finance options. For example, 0% finance which essentially works like an interest-free loan. There is no additional cost to the shopper, and in fact their three-or-four figure purchase works out far more affordable because they are able to spread the payments out.

Yet almost all – 94% of the consumers we surveyed – wouldn’t think to ask a retailer if they offered a POS choice. In public consciousness, POS finance is still heavily associated with specific products – cars and big-ticket home furnishings – rather than being an option in other retailers.

There is, therefore, a real opportunity for the retailers of musical instruments to act proactively in a space where consumers are simultaneously squeezed on cost, yet extremely keen to make what is seen as a highly positive purchase. It’s all about creating a POS finance model which suits the specific needs of consumers, and which is clearly visible and understandable when they are browsing.

Enhancing the online experience

For internet retailers of musical instruments, this means striking a careful balance between showcasing flexible payment options front and centre on the website but avoiding giving the impression of cost coming before quality. Marketing messaging needs to be carefully balanced, erring on the side of informative and advisory rather than brash. The two vital pieces of information for the customer are ‘what will my regular payment be?’ and ‘how long will I be making it for?’, so this needs to absolutely clear.

Next, it means considering the online application process for a POS loan. Like all other aspects of online shopping, converting a browser into a buyer depends on a smooth and seamless experience, with as few clicks, and as little waiting around, as possible. This means that music retailers should prioritise simple application forms and low refer rates – the rate at which customers’ applications are referred for further, non-automated assessments – when choosing a POS provider. A quick decision is key.

POS finance can truly be a way for retailers to boost conversions and help families navigate the sometimes costly but often rewarding waters of music tuition. Fine-tuning indeed.

Author: Michael Bevan, chief executive officer, Duologi.

Image credit: Duologi

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