Since launching In Chicago as a brick-and-mortar music store in 1996, zZounds has grown into one of North America’s top online music equipment retailers. But in an increasingly competitive market, have zZounds grown with the times? How do they stack up against the other big hitters?
In this review, we’ll give you the low-down on zZounds, an online music store that offers a selection of musical instruments and equipment. We’ll discuss all the pros and cons of shopping at zZounds, including value, customer service, payment options, and the overall customer experience.
Who are zZounds?
Starting out in 1996, zZounds was one of the earliest online music stores around. However, in the early days, they were better known for their eclectic in-store offerings at their Chicago shop, zZounds Music Discovery Center, including a wide variety of world music instruments, interactive classes, and gear demos. “The vision was you could come in, learn about interesting ways to make music, get lessons, and you would have a selection of stuff in stock, but you could also go beyond that to order different flavours online,” said company founder Ray Campbell.
But despite their unique take on the music shop blueprint, their website elevated them to the next level. In fact, the site, which launched shortly after the opening of zZounds’ physical store, quickly started to outsell their Chicago shop. Since deciding to close zZounds Music Discovery Center, zZounds.com has become one of North America’s most popular online music retailers, specialising in various instruments and pro audio equipment.
zZounds Review – Overview
zZounds offer a selection of in-demand products from all the top brands, including Fender, Gibson, Marshall, Yamaha, and more. On the website, customers can shop for guitars, basses, drums, keyboards, amps, and a host of other gear. They also carry a variety of recording and production equipment, including mixers, microphones, and studio monitors. zZounds offer their customers a range of payment choices, including several finance options – so buyers can purchase the products they really want without breaking the bank. They also provide free shipping on most orders and have a 45-day return policy. In addition, zZound’s team of experts are at hand to answer any questions that customers may have.
zZounds.com is a clean looking, if not slightly dated, website. Products are broken down into generalised categories (guitar, bass, etc.), and clicking on one will take you to a product list, which you can further fine-tune with filters on the left-hand side of the products. It is a little fiddly to use in some instances: when searching for a seven-string Ibanez guitar, for example, you’ll need to click through three submenus before reaching the brand filter. Better use of drop-down menus would be a quicker, smoother option, which most of zZounds’ competitors use nowadays.
Beyond that, the website generally feels dated. Text and menus are very plain and clunky, almost looking more like a blog than a large online music retailer. It is functional, which is the most important thing, really. But in a competitive online marketplace, customer experience is critical, and zZounds.com could present itself in a much better light.
zZounds carries an assortment of just about any music gear you could want. Along with music shop staples, like guitars, basses, drums, synths and keyboards, they also stock pro audio equipment, including computer audio and recording gear, DJ equipment, and a selection of live music essentials – perfect if you’re an up-and-coming artist. zZounds also carry a variety of audio accessories, such as strings, cables, picks, straps, stands, cases, and more.
zZounds say that they have an inventory about 50 times bigger than your average physical music store, although no actual inventory numbers are available. While browsing the website, it becomes clear that they can’t quite match up to the mammoth inventories of the biggest online retailers, like Thomann or Sweetwater. 300 or so Fender products, for instance, feels like a good selection – until you see the 4,400 on offer at Thomann. Whatever you are looking to buy on zZounds, you will have a choice to make. But when Sweetwater says they carry over 38,000 different items, and Thomann a massive 110,000, you can feel the difference.
This doesn’t mean you won’t find what you’re looking for at zZounds, especially if you’re a beginner or haven’t set your heart on one particular model. But you might need to look elsewhere if you’re after a specific model or something very niche.
As with any online retailer, the prices at zZounds can vary depending on the product type. Generally, the price of a product is broken down into the following components.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Also known as the RRP (Recommended Retail Price), the MSRP is the price a product’s manufacturer recommends that retailers sell their product for. As the name suggests, this price is just a suggested value, and retailers don’t have to sell a product for the MSRP. The MSRP also includes what the manufacturers consider to be an adequate profit margin for the retailer to make on their product. However, this doesn’t take into account the circumstances of the vendor. In the case of zZounds, for instance, they don’t have a physical store, so they don’t need to consider the extra operating costs that would bring.
Shipping and Handling
Shipping and handling charges are the costs associated with getting the product to the customer after purchase. Typically, it will include elements such as packing, shipping, and the cost of insuring items. Many retailers will impose a shipping fee on orders under a specific value. Some will even charge extra shipping on oversized or weighty items a customer purchases online. And this is one of zZounds’ biggest strengths.
zZounds state that they will ship orders to the continental U.S. free of charge. No ifs. No buts. No matter how much your order costs or how heavy it is, your shipping is entirely free. And because zZounds have four warehouses across the country, deliveries tend to be fast, too – over 95% of orders arrive in 1-2 days.
Sales tax is the amount of money that the government collects on the sale of certain products or services. Different versions exist in different countries, such as Value-Added Tax (VAT) in the U.K. and the European Union. Unfortunately, this is an unavoidable fact of buying products wherever you might shop for your new music gear.
If you choose to purchase an item using a financing option, you need to carefully check what added costs this could mean for you. Financing fees can appear in a few different ways, the most obvious of which will be the interest rate. Interest charges can and will differ by quite a bit depending on factors such as:
- Credit score,
- Length of the payment plan,
- Deposit paid,
- The total value of finance required, and
- The finance company itself.
You should also look for other less obvious financing fees, such as processing charges or late payment fees.
At zZounds, you really are spoilt for choice when it comes to financing options. Most items priced at over $75, and total purchases of up to $3,000, qualify for Play as you Pay®, zZounds’ interest-free finance option. Depending on how much you spend, you can choose between 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, or even 18-month plans, with sales tax included in the monthly payments. As mentioned, there’s no interest added to your order – the only addition to the price you pay is a small application fee of between $6.95 – $24.95, depending on your total purchase amount.
Another fairly unique option offered by zZounds is their No Credit Check finance. The terms of this finance option are exactly as it sounds: pick the item you want to buy, choose the No Credit Check payment option, and away you go. No Credit Check isn’t available for every product on their site, and the payment plan is limited to four or six months. But, if your credit history is less than perfect and you’re struggling to get accepted for finance, this option gives you a little more choice.
While discounts don’t feature highly on the zZounds website, there are a few choices if you’re looking for a bargain. The website features a clearance page where you can pick up some top items at knock-down prices. However, it’s important to note that the products featured in the clearance section are not brand-new or flawless items. Instead, you’ll find a random assortment of:
- Resealed products – items that have most likely been sold once and returned,
- ‘Blemished’ items – products that have been returned and feature a bit of superficial damage, and
- ‘Scratch and dent’ products – returned items more damaged than those that zZounds class as ‘blemished’).
Additionally, you might occasionally find B-stock products, which are items that arrive from the manufacturer either in imperfect condition or have been used as demo equipment.
There are some sales on new stock, but it can be challenging to find them – and there isn’t much choice when you do. At the time of writing, less than 100 items are on sale in the entire guitar section. This includes not only guitars themselves, but also all associated accessories, such as amps, strings, pedals, and books.
Overall, the prices at zZounds are largely in line with those at other large music retailers. That said, the limited stock options available at zZounds can impact their competitiveness. When Thomann has the largest warehouse in Europe and buys single guitar models by the crateful, it stands to reason that they are paying less for their stock than other retailers and can pass on the savings accordingly. But that doesn’t necessarily result in a lower price for all customers. Remember that zZounds offer free shipping on all orders to the continental United States, along with interest-free finance options. When everything is considered, you might still end up with a lower top-of-ticket price from zZounds.
At face value, zZounds offers excellent customer service. They have a team of knowledgeable and friendly customer service representatives available to answer any questions that you might have and help with any issues that crop up. They also have a handy live chat feature and a toll-free customer service telephone number that customers can use to contact them.
In the real world, however, there is something of a mixed bag when it comes to customer satisfaction. Reading Reddit threads, you’ll find plenty of satisfied customers, with comments like “Some of the best customer service I’ve ever experienced”. However, you don’t have to look too hard to find more negative review scores. Trustpilot lists zZounds as having an overall rating of just 2.3, with a worrying 69% of reviews scored at 1/5. But, as with any other company, you should take this score with a pinch of salt. Consumers are far more likely to leave reviews after having a negative experience, so it can prove more reliable to ‘listen to the streets’ on social media sites like Reddit, where people can quickly respond to questions and have conversations. And in this instance, Zzounds scores far better in people’s perceptions.
You always hope your shiny new purchase will be perfect, and you won’t need to think about returns. But unfortunately, there’s always the chance that an unseen manufacturing error or a mishap in shipping will occur, and your product won’t reach you in tip-top condition. Or maybe you’ll receive your order fine, but you just don’t like what you’ve bought. This is another area where zZounds shines.
While many retailers offer a standard 30-day return policy, zZounds have taken things up a notch and give you 45 days to try out your product. If, after this time, you decide that you don’t like the item or notice a problem with it, you can return it for a like-for-like replacement, exchange your item for a different one, or request a refund. zZounds accept returns for almost any reason, meaning you can rest assured that if everything isn’t as it should be, you won’t be left to deal with it.
Pros and cons
- Fairly good choice of product types: zZounds offers a good selection of all the different musical instruments and accessories you’re generally likely to be in the market for. Whether you’re looking for a guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, or even pro recording equipment or DJ gear, you will have an assortment of products to choose from.
- Competitive prices: All things considered, zZounds offers competitive prices on its products. And with a small but cost-effective selection of clearance items, there are some great options for budget-conscious shoppers.
- Easy payment options: zZounds offers a fantastic variety of payment options. Aside from the standard choices, like common credit cards and PayPal, you can opt for a range of flexible financing and payment plans. zZounds are also one of the few retailers to offer No Credit Check financing, perfect if you’re feeling held back because of a few blemishes on your credit history. This makes it easy for customers to purchase the products they want.
- Free and fast shipping: If you live in the Continental U.S., you can get free shipping on any order, with no minimum order value and no charge for heavy or oversized items. Additionally, you can typically expect delivery in just 1-2 days.
- Easy returns: zZounds offers an excellent and easy return process, guaranteeing customer satisfaction for 45 days. If you aren’t happy with your item, you can exchange it for a new product, an identical replacement, or request a complete refund.
- Limited selection: While zZounds offer a choice in almost all of the most common product categories, they carry a limited selection of actual products. This is particularly evident when comparing zZounds’ product range to their biggest competitors, such as Sweetwater and Thomann.
- Website: While it does everything you need, you can’t help but feel that zZounds.com is a fairly drab experience that they could easily improve.
- Shipping costs: Although zZounds offer free shipping anywhere in the continental U.S., they also charge a flat-rate shipping fee for orders going anywhere else, which can make it more expensive than some of its competitors.
- Customer service: It would be harsh to say that zZounds provide unsatisfactory customer service or list it as a con. After all, plenty of social media users seem happy to say good things about them. Still, their negative scores on dedicated review sites can’t be completely ignored and are something you might consider when purchasing.
zZounds presents us with a strange dilemma. Products are competitively priced, and they offer great payment options, excellent shipping, and go above and beyond on returns. So why does it feel like this review isn’t all that positive?
On paper, zZounds should be everything you’re looking for in an online music store. But, unfortunately, a few negatives put a bit of a dampener on proceedings. The limited product range, outdated website, and small amount of sales opportunities on new items are all things that zZounds could improve – maybe even need to improve if they’re to stay competitive with the big fish in the industry.
Whether or not zZounds is worth using depends on your needs and preferences. Their selection may be limited, but if you aren’t picky about what you’re buying or don’t want something super niche, the products on offer will easily accommodate your needs. Furthermore, the fantastic payment options, free shipping, and 45-day returns could be all you’re looking for in an online retailer. 3/5