How can bike shops utilise their expertise?

Amazon is stealing all the bike sales. Rachel Makinson looks at what bike shops can do to fight back.

When Amazon first launched back in 1995, it was just a small company that only sold books. Fast forward 20+ years and Amazon is a hugely successful, multinational company selling a whole host of products – including bikes. According to Forbes, Amazon shipped more than fives billion items in 2017 with Prime worldwide, and in our highly consumeristic, impatient society, Amazon’s growing popularity is surely only going to continue as time goes on.

How and why is Amazon so successful?
Simply put, Amazon offers an incredibly extensive product range, at low prices with fast and reliable shipping. Plus, shoppers don’t even have to leave the comfort of their own homes to make a purchase. It is an extremely innovative company that is continually seeking new ways to improve the ease and quality of the customers browsing and purchasing experience. 
In more recent years, Amazon has also launched a visual search engine that allows its users to point their phone’s camera at any item that has taken their interest, and instantly view a multitude of similar items on Amazon’s website. Such innovation is difficult to compete with.

The problem
If someone comes into your shop, likes what they see but then scan-search it for purchases via Amazon, what can you do? Amazon Prime membership offers free next-day delivery. As a smaller bicycle retailer, how can you manage to deliver orders with the same rapid efficiency and affordability? Your business might stock one hundred different bikes, but Amazon stocks one thousand different bikes and all the helmets, clothing and accessories that could ever possibly come with it, so what are you going to do about it? While stopping Amazon from stealing all your bike sales might seem a completely unattainable challenge, there are in fact many, many ways in which you can mitigate its thefts and up your sales…

Always have a business website
In this day and age, it is absolutely essential to have a smoothly designed and well-run website to maintain a successful and profitable business. E-commerce is beating the high street in the UK – 51% of consumers say they prefer to shop online instead of at physical stores. Consequently, if you do not have a website, you are instantaneously cutting your business off from at least half of your potential market.

It is, however, also very important to ensure that your website is easy for your customers to use. Online shoppers will lose patience quickly with a website that is slow, confusing or unattractive to the eye, meaning they may click off of your website and instead hop straight onto Amazon if your website isn’t up to scratch.

Part of Amazon’s huge success is due to its website’s simple and aesthetic layout, making it easy and quick for customers to browse and shop. The Amazon website provides its users with a space to save items to their ‘wish list’, it recalls a shopper’s browsing history and remembers payment details so that customers need only make one click to secure their order. If you are struggling to design a website for your business that is sleek and efficient, know that you are not alone and there are literally hundreds of affordable website designers out there who can sort it out for you.

While hiring a website designer will cost money, you should view it as an investment that will help to bring more sales in the future. Make sure your website looks modern, sleek and professional and stands out from other small business websites. Adding a feature which allows customers to ‘chat now’ will also provide an easy means of communication which will help you to secure shopper’s confidence and more sales in the future.

Data capture
Data capture is an immensely useful tool to encourage customers to shop with you again. It provides you with a means of more targeted advertisement and allows you to promote deals and new products to people who you already know are interested. 

Email out promotions and information on new product launches often to tempt customers to buy again from you but be careful not to overdo it. Sending out daily, or evenly weekly, emails will be off-putting and ultimately just annoying. Sending out fewer and better put together promotions will be more successful in grabbing the attention and interest of your target audience. 

For in-store bike sales, capturing data through an app or a computer programme rather than by paper will be much more efficient and professional, and you will be much less likely to take down customer details inaccurately. However, if a customer does not wish to provide you with their details, do not push them to do so as being overly insistent can easily create a negative impression.

Reliability and trustworthiness
Another reason for Amazon’s huge and widespread success is its reliability. Forbes states that Amazon has earned our trust by delivering the products we want, on time, intact, in the same branded brown boxes – consistently. 

If your bike business can deliver the same high standard to service, then you are going to be much more likely to secure yourself sales that might have otherwise gone to Amazon.

Forbes focuses on the importance of speedy delivery as well as sturdy, protective and professional packaging to generate a good reputation and image for your business. Be sure to use an efficient courier service when sending your products out to customers and try to keep the packaging you opt for as sleek and attractive as possible, whilst also ensuring products are well protected to avoid potential damage.

Offering free delivery, if you can, is an added incentive for customers to purchase from you. If this is not viable for you, try instead to provide delivery at the most affordable rate you possibly can. Offering free returns is another fantastic way to build a trustworthy reputation for your business: buyers will feel much more confident in making purchases with you knowing that they are able to return the item free of charge if it isn’t right for any reason. But, by ensuring that your products are of great quality, returns are something you should hopefully be able to avoid. Having great quality products is, of course, essential to building a reliable and trustworthy reputation for yourself and your company.

A brilliant way to demonstrate the superior quality of your products is through a blog. Whilst Amazon may be able to provide customers with an unbelievably extensive selection of bikes and cycling related products, you almost certainly can offer customers much greater expertise and product knowledge, which you should undoubtedly use to your advantage. Starting up a blog is a great way to provide your customers with in-depth product detail and thus promote your stock. A blog provides you with an opportunity to explain to a potential customer why it is that your bike and related products are superior to those which are available on Amazon.

Consider hosting in-store promotion events
This suggestion might not be suited to every cycle retailer, depending on the size and staff-availability of your business, but, if you are able to host in-store promotion events it’s certainly something you should consider as it’s a fantastic way to create a more personal relationship with your customer base – which large, multinational companies such as Amazon can’t do.

Host fundraising events for local charities or give talks and demonstrations on the latest products. Events such as these will allow you to really get to know your customers whilst promoting your business and creating something much more niche than what Amazon can offer.

The bottom line…
While competing with larger online retailers and multi-national, hugely well-known companies can feel like an ever increasingly impossible challenge, there are advantages that you, as a smaller cycle retailer, in fact, have over them.

Use your product knowledge and expertise to its full potential to draw in cycle enthusiasts who want more than what Amazon can offer them.

If you have a physical store, utilise that daily to its fullest potential: encourage customers to come in and try out the bikes you have on offer. This is something shoppers can’t do through Amazon until they have already paid for the bike and had it delivered.

Make the very most of what you can offer to customers that Amazon cannot, whilst also building up a reliable reputation for your business and ensuring to promote your products in order to build up as large a sphere of influence as possible, increasing your bike sales and thus profitability in the long-term.

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