HomeNews & FeaturesDoes showrooming for bikes and cycling gear make you evil?

Does showrooming for bikes and cycling gear make you evil?

In the old days, when the shop keeper would ask “Can I help you?”, it was polite and acceptable to respond “I am just browsing”. As customers we want the best price or the best deal on the items we’re after and even in the days before the commercial internet, comparison shopping and price matching were common. Then along came online shopping, and with it showrooming, and traditional retailers started to worry.

When a “customer” examines a bike or cycling gear in a store with the intent to purchase it online at a lower price, this is showrooming. Physical stores give you a chance to touch the product, kick the proverbial tyres, and work out exactly the right size for you. Even if customers do intend to buy in the store, it’s confronting for the store  to see the customer with a smart phone in their hand getting the absolute lowest price available anywhere in the world and using it as a bargaining point. I don’t know if that constitutes evil or not, but you’d have to agree that it is very, very rude.

In the world of cycling, shop owners are prone to exaggeration when asked about the number of people who come to the shop to showroom. They tend to count each customer who doesn’t purchase rather than recognise that many really are ‘just browsing’. I remember standing inside Clarence Street Cycles in Sydney as a kid, just looking at the bikes and gear, and I still like to look, dream about the next bike, and have a chat with the staff if they are friendly.

So is online shopping as bad for bike shops as we are made to believe? The biggest impact of online sales for bike shops is in bicycle parts and accessories. Wiggle Australia have confirmed that the average value of an online order is $80. Parts and accessories also have the biggest margins for retailers; the percentage markup on bikes is much lower. For the whole economy, across all market segments, the 2014 value of Australian online spending was $16.4 billion. However from this, online sales accounted for the equivalent of only 6.8% of traditional bricks and mortar spending.

In the bike world, the value of online sales in Australia is often disputed and the stats rarely factor in home grown competition from Australian online bike shops. So while there is an effect, in-store sales still dominate.

 

Good customer, bad customer

Bike shops and importers can provide lots of stories of customers who have asked the shop staff to price-match with overseas retailers. Stories also abound of brands who have been asked to resolve warranty issues on gear purchased overseas. Some shops who both sell online and offline may have room to move in their pricing, but asking your local bike shop to drop the price of their Continental tyres to half price to match Chain Reaction Cycles may simply not be possible; when they aren’t selling one hundred or one thousand tyres a week, they don’t have room to move, even their cost price may be much more than an overseas store selling price.

It is bad form to purchase cycling gear or a bike from overseas and expect warranty or service from the local importer. In the world of computers and other tech, some brands try to make life easy for customer with a worldwide warranty. I can take my Apple laptop to any Apple store in the world, but the difference is that the store belongs to the brand; in the cycling world, the local shops and local importers are effectively competing against their own brand with overseas online retailers. That said, there are a handful of Australian importers who will look after warranty problems for their products, regardless of where it was purchased.

One approach to counter customers from showrooming started a few years back among some local bike shops who began to charge customers a fee to try on cycling shoes. This fee would be deducted if the customer subsequently purchased a pair. This had two effects. The first was that that the customer needed to commit, so it turned away time-wasters. The second effect was that it also turned away genuine customers.

Jordan Ride in Workshop
Jordan from Ride in Workshop in Sydney has grown a solid reputation with repeat business

One of my best experiences with a bike shop was when I wanted to buy a new helmet. The bike shop owner helped me try helmets from the two brands he stocked, in the styles I wanted. It wasn’t to be, however, since the helmets and my head didn’t quite work together. The owner suggested that I go to his competitor, a nearby bike shop, which stocked a brand which he thought would fit me better. So I did go, and I found the helmet I wanted, but I also returned to the original shop and became a loyal customer. If I had to pay for the privilege of trying on helmets, I probably would have passed and the bike shop would have lost my business forever.

None of us want to be ‘evil’ customers and most would like to support our friendly and competent local bike shop. But ‘just browsing’ can also be tricky and significant price differences alone can unwittingly turn us into showroomers. When I picked up a simple puncture repair kit from one Sydney bike shop last year I was surprised at the $9 price tag, but purchased it anyway. Shortly after I spotted the same puncture repair kit online from a well known Australian online bike shop for a regular list price of $4, less than half the store price. Ouch.

I get it, the ludicrous Sydney rental prices, sales staff wages and shop fittings, etc all need to be paid for. But at the end of the day it is also an identical product which costs me more than double the price for the privilege of buying in-store and it is really hard to feel happy about paying this premium.

When I walk in to a store, too often the shop staff blow it with arrogance or incompetence and this needs to change if they want my cash in their register. On principle I wont showroom, but like many others I find it convenient to start researching online first. In the best case, the brand also displays their recommended retail prices online. I’m informed, I know what I want, and I am willing to buy. When I walk in to the bicycle shop, I am an opportunity!

Christopher Jones
Christopher Joneshttps://www.bicycles.net.au
Christopher Jones is a recreational cyclist and runs a design agency, Signale. As the driving force behind Bicycles.net.au he has one of each 'types' of bicycles.
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