Sonos is a fascinating company. In the 20 years since its inception, the business has carved out an enviable niche with its multi-room audio service.
In fact, it’s hard to think of any other consumer technology company that holds such a sway over the market. From TVs to headphones, laptops to games consoles, there are few companies that dominate their spaces quite like Sonos.
This is not to say the company does not have competitors – I’ve written in great depth about my adoration of Bluesound gear and Bose has been in this sphere for some time – it’s just that they’re not on equal footing.
For example, Bluesound isn’t quite doing the same thing, as its focus is more on the audiophile community. Secondly, while many of us could name a competitor to, say, Microsoft Windows, far fewer would do the same for Sonos.
The more I’ve pondered it, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that Sonos’ biggest competitors aren’t companies in its precise space (that’s multiroom, wireless audio equipment).
Rather, the biggest threat to Sonos are the tech giants making voice-activated speakers.
In 2021 alone, there were 186 million smart speakers shipped. Their growth has been spectacular, with this figure sitting at 6.5 million in 2016.
Why are these figures important? Well, a key selling point of the most popular smart speakers – the Amazon Echo and Google’s Nest range – is how damn affordable things are.
Currently, you can pick up an Amazon Echo or Google Nest Audio for around $ 100. Or, if that seems a bit too spicy, you can also grab the smaller Echo Dot or Nest Mini for $ 50.
Sonos, on the other hand, has been a historically premium brand. Many of its ‘mid-range’ devices shipped for around $ 400.
If it stuck to this strategy, the company was bound to lose market position. But it has not. And its most recent hardware shows just how cleverly it has been responding to the threat of tech giants’ smart speakers.
Widening the Sonos sales funnel
The company’s most recent product is the Sonos Ray, a soundbar that retails for $ 279.
For some context, the company’s other soundbars – the Beam and the Arc – retail for $ 449 and $ 899 respectively.
This is not by chance. Nor is it a one-off decision to try and ship more products. No, this is part of a deliberate strategy by Sonos to compete with tech giants and widen its sales funnel.
It’s no coincidence that a year after smart speaker sales more than doubled (31.7 million shipped in 2017, to 85.8 million in 2018), Sonos released its first truly affordable hardware: the SYMFONISK collection in collaboration with IKEA.
The bookshelf version of this retailed for $ 99 – half the price of the company’s previous cheapest speaker.
Shortly after this, the company also released the One SL. Again, at $ 179, this was the lowest priced speaker Sonos made itself.
The next piece in how the company has evolved to fight the tech giants’ smart speaker threat was with the launch of the Sonos Roam, its first portable Bluetooth speaker.
Start low and go high
At its launch, I wrote about how shrewd a business move the $ 169 Sonos Roam was.
To put it succinctly as possible, the device is a standalone unit that’s good enough to hook in anyone looking for a portable speaker.
In other words, the Roam acts as an easy entry point into Sonos’ funnel.
You can buy it without having to commit to a whole system. But if you do end up liking it? Well, it’s not a huge leap to decide to populate your home with more Sonos gear. I mean, why would not you buy something that complements a speaker you already own?