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Sam Ash Closes Stores as Musicians Turn to Amazon

Sam Ash Closes Stores as Hobbyist Shoppers Turn to Amazon

As Amazon gains share in hobby retail categories, specialty retailers such as Sam Ash are taking a hit. The music retailer announced Thursday (May 2) that it is closing all its stores.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce that effective May 2nd 2024, all Sam Ash Music Store locations will begin store closing sales,” the company stated. “…Thank you for allowing us to serve musicians like you for 100 years.”

The news came nearly two months after reports of the company closing 18 stores, including its New York City flagship location.

Music retailers have been struggling in recent years, especially since the pandemic’s acceleration of retail’s digital shift. Even as consumers were buying more musical instruments in lockdown, Sam Ash competitor Guitar Center went bankrupt.

While it seems likely that many consumers would still buy their instruments themselves in stores, given that shoppers tend to prefer the higher-trust brick-and-mortar shopping experience for large-ticket purchases, eCommerce competitors have likely been picking off the smaller sales that music retailers also rely on.

The PYMNTS Intelligence study “Tracking the Digital Payments Takeover: Catching the Coming eCommerce Wave” found that home furnishings and appliances were among the categories consumers were most likely to want to buy in stores. These findings suggest that for major purchases, consumers still prefer the physical store.

Yet Amazon is gaining share of consumers’ spending on music-related products, according to supplementary research from the PYMNTS Intelligence report “Whole Paycheck Report: New Consumer Spend Data Finds Amazon Way Ahead of Walmart.” Consequently, music stores such as Sam Ash are facing the same problems as other specialty retailers such as craft supply stores.

The study estimated Amazon and Walmart’s market shares in various categories based on years of earnings reports in conjunction with national data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis. It found that in 2023, Amazon held a 34% share of total consumer sporting goods, hobby, music and book retail spending, up from 20% before the pandemic in 2019.

Online retailers like Amazon offer a wide selection of music products at competitive prices, often with the added convenience of fast shipping, especially for Prime members. A PYMNTS Intelligence survey of nearly 2,700 U.S. consumers conducted last year revealed that 61% of U.S. consumers were Amazon Prime members.

This leg up has made it challenging for traditional music stores to compete, particularly when it comes to pricing and inventory selection. Plus, operating a physical retail store involves various expenses, including rent, utilities and staffing. Music stores may struggle to cover these costs, especially when faced with declining sales and increasing competition from online retailers.

Additionally, overall, consumers are cutting back on nice-to-have items. The PYMNTS Intelligence study “Why One-Third of High Earners Live Paycheck to Paycheck,” which drew from a survey of more than 4,200 U.S. consumers, found that 60% of shoppers have cut down on nonessential retail purchases. As such, hobby retailers have an uphill battle keeping their customers loyal.

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