Reverb – is this chance independent retailers have been waiting for?
MIN’s editor, Gary Cooper, speaks with Kevin Drost, Chief Strategy Officer of Reverb.com – the online sales portal that could finally give UK music shops the chance to compete with the online giants.
Though Reverb. com has been around for a few years now (since 2013 in fact) I have to admit that I had been only peripherally aware of it until recently, when a retailer friend told me he had started advertising on it. Until then, I’d had a vague notion that the online sales platform, which I’d mentally pegged as an ‘alternative to eBay’ was primarily for US retailers and consumers.
A bit of research, however, reveals that even if that view of Reverb was accurate a couple of years ago, things are changing. Having established itself as a major player in the North American market as a sales portal for both musicians and retailers, the company is now turning its attention more fully to Europe and the UK. If you haven’t been keeping up with what Reverb is and what it is doing, now might be the time to start exploring its potential.
But first a brief introduction to what Reverb is, where it came from and what it has to offer the UK music trade.
Reverb CEO and Founder David Kalt started his career as a recording engineer in Chicago. Developing a passion for software as well as music, he started and sold his first software company- a travel industry customer relationship management software program called ClientBase – in the ’90s. In the early 2000s, he co-founded an online trading platform called optionsXpress, which he took public before it was sold for $1 billion.
Shortly after, he purchased guitar store the Chicago Music Exchange. While trying to buy and sell guitars on eBay, he became extremely frustrated with what he saw as an expensive, cumbersome, experience that wasn’t exactly tailored for musicians. Reverb.com was thus designed from the outset to do what he, as a music retailer, needed.
Since then, Reverb. com has grown very rapidly, even for an online phenomenon. Currently claiming 10 million visitors a month, it is approaching $1 billion total sales via the platform and made almost $400 million sales in 2017 alone.
Though started in the USA, Reverb claims that buyers, sellers, orders, and sales outside the U.S. have grown by over 500 per cent. It now employs people in the UK, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia and, specifically, is developing UK orientated Content to attract musicians in this country to visit and use the site.
So what is it? Essentially, Reverb is an online sales destination/platform/portal for selling new and used musical instruments and equipment. Think of an eBay dedicated to music gear and you won’t be far wrong but it is cheaper to use than eBay, has a much friendlier ethos and it puts your products in front of an audience that is there to buy music gear.
Importantly, in the current harsh retail climate, what Reverb seems to offer is a shop window for the independent retailer – down to the level of one man with a guitar he wants to sell and up to an entire shopful of new or used gear. That means a level platform with the big boys and with potentially equal, or even greater, reach.
Before posing my questions to Kevin Drost, Reverb’s Chrief Strategy Officer, I asked Reverb how it would sell itself.
Why is Reverb.com different?
Built for musicians, by musicians. We use the site every day, so we’re constantly creating new tools and services to make it easier to buy and sell gear.
Low fees. We charge the lowest fees in the market – free to list and just 3.5% when an item sells. That puts more money in sellers pockets and keeps prices low for buyers.
Content. Reverb’s video and content team is dedicated to creating artist interviews, demos, “how-tos,” and more to help users understand the gear they’re buying and selling.
Customer Engagement. When you call, email, or chat Reverb.com you don’t just get a human on the other end, you get a musician.
Sample of Reverb Tools / Services
The Reverb Price Guide – Real-time transactional data on the cost of gear to help users determine the value of what they’re buying and selling.
Reverb Payments – Allows sellers to safely accept the most popular payment methods and receive funds directly in their bank account.
Reverb Sites – Like Squarespace, specifically for music gear sellers (It’s free!)
Reverb Bump – Enables sellers to pay to get their listings “bumped” to get more exposure.
With that in mind, this is how Kevin Drost answered my questions.
GC: Are retailers important to Reverb or are you primarily for private sellers and buyers?
KD: Reverb’s founder David Kalt was running a brick-and-mortar guitar store when he came up with the idea for Reverb. While using other e-commerce platforms to buy and sell inventory online, he became extremely frustrated with the experience, which was expensive, cumbersome, and not tailored to the needs of musicians. So Reverb was built out of the frustrations of a retailer, but it launched as a platform for both professional retailers and private sellers and buyers. Currently, we have traditional retailers of all sizes, online-only retailers, manufacturers, distributors, and more all utilising Reverb in the UK.
GC: What does Reverb offer retailers that other platforms don’t?
KD: First, Reverb was built specifically for the musical instrument industry by a team of musicians. That means that every tool, service, button, and more you see on the website was created with the music community in mind. Because we’re musicians, we also keep our fees among the lowest of any eCommerce platform. That means more money in sellers’ pockets, lower prices for buyers, and more transactions happening overall. Unlike other platforms, we also have a large, dedicated customer engagement team. When you call, email or chat Reverb, you don’t just get a human on the other end, you get a musician. Finally, no other platform creates high-quality video and editorial content like we do. We produce artist interviews, gear demos, how-tos, and more to help users get inspired and understand the gear they’re buying and selling.
GC: Reverb says sales outside the US have grown by over 500 % but there seems to be a feeling in the UK that it is still very much a US platform. What is happening to expand its reach here?
KD: Our first step in the UK was to hire on-the-ground support and work really hard to ensure that we understand the ins and outs of the industry in the region. That means we’ve spent more time speaking directly with retailers, dealers, and musicians and less time marketing the platform. Now that we have a platform and service that doesn’t just feel local, but is very local—with buyers and sellers in the UK and across Europe—you’ll hear about us more frequently, particularly in places like Guitarist and The Guitar Magazine, where we regularly provide data and insights on the vintage guitar industry.
In terms of features, UK sellers can now directly accept credit card payments and receive their funds into their bank account via BACS/SEPA transfer, which saves considerably on PayPal fees. Next, we’ll be rolling out the ability to purchase shipping labels at a discount from Royal Mail and UPS. We’re also working with UK banking partners on financing options.
We’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible UK-based artists, including Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Mani from Stone Roses and Primal Scream, who’ve chosen to sell their gear on Reverb. We also just added another member to our European marketing team, based in Bristol, so you’ll see much more UK-focused articles and videos coming up this year.
GC: Can you give us figures that show Reverb’s reach in the UK?
KD: In the last two years, monthly traffic and sales from the UK have grown more than 1,000 percent. In fact, the UK just became our largest market outside of the U.S. in terms of sales, inventory, and distinct sellers. Each month, we have hundreds of thousands of unique visitors to the site coming from the UK.
GC: There’s also a feeling that online marketplaces are for selling products at the cheapest possible price and some manufacturers don’t want their products sold there. Do those perceptions and restrictions apply on Reverb?
KD: Since we only serve the music instrument industry, it’s critical to us that the industry is healthy. We don’t consider ourselves in the same category as a massive, generic marketplace—instruments are our passion, not just another category. We want gear and music to be around for our children and our children’s children, and so on.
We work very closely with both large and boutique manufacturers to support their products and their dealers. Take, for example, Electro-Harmonix. They made a big decision earlier this year to restrict their sellers from selling on platforms like Amazon. They didn’t, however, restrict dealers from selling on Reverb because we work hard to support both their brand and their dealer network. Another great example is Earthquaker Devices, who launched their first DSP pedal, The Avalanche Run, exclusively on Reverb. It remains one of their best-selling pedals.
GC: Would you say Reverb can help independent shops fight back against the dominance of chains or the big online retailers??
KD: Absolutely. Through Reverb, a small independent shop has essentially the same capabilities as the largest players in the industry. After setting up a Reverb shop, an independent shop has instant access to more than 10 million customers each month from around the globe. They also have the support of more than 170 Reverb team members focused on everything from cutting-edge e-commerce technology and sophisticated marketing campaigns to video production, customer support, and fraud prevention. Plus, it doesn’t cost a retailer anything to create an account or list as much inventory as they want for as long as they want. We charge just a 3.5 percent fee when something sells, which makes Reverb an extremely affordable way to compete with the big guys.
GC: What are your top tips for making Reverb work for retailers?
KD: When selling gear online, it’s all about standing out. This starts with inventory, which you can make even more distinct by considering secondhand gear. The wonderful thing about selling online is you have access to millions of customers—far more than could ever walk through your doors. But there’s also more competition online. If you’re selling the same new guitar, at the same price, with the same stock photos and manufacturer-supplied specs, you’ll have a very difficult time convincing a customer to buy from you over someone else. When you have secondhand inventory, it’s likely unique—you might have the only one in the world at that price with that history. It does take a little more work to source and resell secondhand and vintage instruments, but it can pay off. We have many retailers who’ve made secondhand a core part of their strategy and have sold well over a million pounds on Reverb.
Another tip is to treat online customers the same way you would treat in-store customers. All customers expect friendly service, quick support, and a positive experience. That expectation extends all the way to your listings—take great photos, write detailed descriptions, and use a consistent background. Answer questions quickly and have a return policy that is consistent with today’s consumer’s expectations. Reverb has built tons of tools to make this incredibly easy, from creating listings and messaging customers to negotiating on pricing and providing post-sale support.
GC: What about manufacturers and distributors. Is there a place for them on Reverb and if so, how would that work?
KD: Of course. We work closely with most manufacturers and distributors. One way we naturally do that is through marketing and promoting the products that we love. As I mentioned, we have more than 10 million musicians coming to the website each month and we invest heavily in videos, product reviews, and interviews to keep them coming back and help them learn about the gear that’s available to them. We also work hand-in-hand with distributors to help them support their dealer networks. Many of them view Reverb as a tool for their dealers to be more competitive, particularly across Europe. We also have manufacturers and distributors that sell directly through Reverb, usually to offload b-stock or end-of-life product.
GC: If a transaction runs into problems, what is your mechanism like for handling complaints and problems?
KD: Our primary goal is to provide both buyers and sellers with an incredible experience, so we take problems very seriously and offer full protection for all users. We have dozens of customer service representatives in the US and Europe who handle phone calls, chats, and emails in English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese. All of our customer engagement team members are musicians, so they know exactly what it’s like to buy and sell instruments online. Finding the perfect instrument online is such a special experience, but it can be intimidating. It’s really important to us that you are able to pick up the phone or jump into a chat to interact with a musician if you have questions.
Outside of our customer engagement team, we have a very robust feedback system so buyers and sellers can review each other before completing a transaction. We’re also extremely vigilant about removing bad buyers and sellers from our platform and make it very easy for the community to report bad behaviour if they see it.
GC: Is there anything on the horizon that retailers ought to know about?
KD: One of the biggest frustrations retailers used to express to us was how hard it is to maintain and updated their own website—especially when compared to how easy it is to use Reverb. As a result, we launched Reverb Sites, a service that allows retailers to easily create a free, customizable e-commerce website in minutes. The website syncs with your Reverb shop and looks almost identical on the back end, but looks and feels like a high-quality, personalized website from the outside.
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