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Buying Online is Here to Stay

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted American businesses including retail musical instrument stores like the Denver Folklore Center. However, the roots of some of these changes can be traced back a decade or more.

It was 2010 when the automobile industry first introduced online buying. Seven years later Zillow began using e-commerce to buy and sell houses sight unseen. If you can buy houses and cars through e-commerce there really are no limits to what consumers can acquire without ever leaving home.

The COVID-19 pandemic, by restricting people’s in-person options and messing up supply chains, probably did more to increase the number of people buying online than anything GOOGLE, Meta or Amazon could ever do. To this day I have no idea why people were hoarding toilet paper but not water and food.

Among the lasting changes are that more people now work from home, Zoom and Google Meet are routinely used in place of meetings in offices, conference rooms and hotels, doctors examine their patients remotely, restaurant food is now routinely delivered and many people found the time for improving relationships, fixing up their homes and taking up new hobbies. Which brings me to the impact COVID-19 had on the musical instrument world.

Online sales of guitars and other instruments didn’t start with the pandemic. Guitar Center, founded in 1959, and Sweetwater, which opened in Indianapolis in 1979, started out as brick and mortar stores but eventually evolved into America’s largest online instrument retailers. Today virtually anyone selling musical instruments, small or large, has some level of online presence. Here at the Denver Folklore Center that side of our business took a big step forward during the years of the pandemic.

I personally believe in buying local whenever possible. But I was easily caught up in the online buying frenzy where during 2020 I made over 100 purchases through Amazon Prime. So no surprise to learn that more people are buying guitars and other instruments online than ever before. More than 100,000 businesses permanently shuttered in 2020 and one of our vendors let me know that 14 brick and mortar stores they had been supplying closed their doors.

While the online buying experience will never match the in-person experience when it comes to musical instruments, there are some things you can do to maximize the results if you choose to buy online.

First, do your research – about the brand, specific models and the dealer selling you the instrument. Ask lots of questions. Most online retailers prefer selling to an educated buyer - it makes for a happier outcome. Check online for video demos of the models you are considering. Read reviews especially if they come from a reputable source like Consumer Reports, Forbes, Music Inc. and the like. Understand the seller’s guarantees, shipping and return policies before you buy.

Even if you do all of those things well, there is some chance that the instrument you receive won’t be perfect. The strings might not be fresh, the setup might not have the height of the strings where you like them, the neck might not be the shape you prefer and shipping may have jostled the guitar and thrown some things off. So be prepared for the possibility that you’ll need someone local and knowledgeable to make adjustments.

If you don’t have a guitar store nearby or you prefer to have instruments shipped to you, the results can be satisfying if you approach the purchase with care and caution. - Saul Rosenthal, Co-Owner Denver Folklore Center