End-to-end service is the future for IBDs

By James Steel, director, Citrus-Lime

The retail landscape has altered dramatically over the last 12 months. Although change has been coming slowly, lockdown has led to the biggest shake-up of the industry in a generation.

Being less able to visit physical stores, shoppers have been faced with no other option but to buy online. This rapid acceleration of internet shopping has caused retailers of all sizes real challenges.

It’s a pain point that I know all too well. The arrival of Amazon, and the way it changed the status quo, really disrupted the sector. It enabled people to search for what they wanted, browse the products on offer, make a purchase and have it delivered directly to the front door – all without setting foot outside the house.

If people weren’t shopping online before, they are now. Whether we like it or not, the tentacles of e-commerce are touching everything in retail. Now shoppers have got used to its ease and convenience, the seismic shift to online is here to stay.

It’s not surprising. These days, the search for goods starts on the internet, so it’s really important for retailers to have a web presence. While price is a big driver, many people are looking for choice and convenience too. They want delivery, they want Click and Collect, they want finance and they want to know what stock bike dealers have and when they can get it.

However, while the world wide web satisfies lots of shoppers’ needs, when it comes to high value goods, the physical store will always be an essential part of the mix. Buying a bike is a personal pursuit. Fit and feel are crucial to the riding experience and this is something that can’t be replicated by looking at an image on screen. You wouldn’t spend £1,000 on a sofa without sitting on it first – it’s the same for buying a bike.

And make no mistake – this is a good thing. IBDs are passionate people. They love cycling and that enthusiasm spills out in the way they interact with customers. It’s their intricate knowledge of the product and the personal service they deliver that sets them apart from the giants of the bike sector.

That said, I’m a firm believer that in order to survive and thrive, IBDs will need to adapt. Those who implement e-commerce in addition to their store will remain in the game. But it doesn’t stop there; offering different ways to pay can only encourage purchases and supplying bikes in a way customers want to receive them will help independents compete.

In my opinion, the way forward is for IBDs to embrace an end-to-end service model. Buyers want to be able to access goods with the least amount of hassle. Whether they go direct to a store or go online, offering a slick delivery service, Click and Collect and finance options are going to be the game changers. This is the inevitable future of retail, and all 2020 did was make the future happen faster

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