Let’s play a game

Kevin Burton presents an all-too-familiar scenario from bike shops around the country.

Having been a cyclist since I was a kid, I’ve racked up around 30 years of experience in the industry. I like to think I know my stuff! But let’s forget, for a moment, that I have that ‘insider knowledge’, and measure the shopping experience from a consumer perspective. Let’s say I want to start getting more into road cycling as I’ve mostly ridden off-road – I know a lot about MTBs and a little about gravel bikes. So, where to start?

The internet
After many hours of searching forums and reviews on the internet, I settle on a couple of brands that I’m keen on, but I decide I need some advice from an expert. There are so many opinions and options to choose from!

The bike shop
I walk in and the staff are busy with a few people, but that’s a good sign, right? It builds confidence: if people are being dealt with, the shop must have good service and great products. After 15 minutes of looking around, the staff are still busy and I am yet to be acknowledged. There is not even someone who says: ‘Hello, we are really busy but I will get to you’. After 40 minutes or so, I decide to leave, and I won’t be going back to this shop. At home that evening, I’m looking online at a major direct-to-consumer brand, and given that the price seems great and it’s better value, why would I buy the product from a shop? I very nearly buy it there and then, but I get a recommendation to go to this cool trendy-looking shop a bit further away.

I visit the store at the weekend. When I walk in they seem really busy, but two of the staff acknowledge me and ask me if I want a coffee while I wait. I’m impressed so far – it’s the little things! After a while, one of the guys comes over and we have a nice friendly chat. It wasn’t so much about bikes to start with, but that made me feel even more relaxed. We get talking about what I have done in the past, my experience and skills, and then go on to what I’m looking for.

When I was asked about what I’ve looked at, I tell him about my online experience, and this store was open to helping me with that. If I bring it in they can set it up for me – at a cost, of course. They then take me through some models they think might suit my needs, talking through all the features and different options, and I’m offered a test ride on a few models. I go out on three different bikes and decide on one that is above budget, and I get a free set up when I collect the bike. We then go on to have a chat about other items like shoes, pedals, clothing and helmets. Two very different experiences!

In my time I have seen similar things in different stores throughout the UK. I have been in stores that have said to me: ‘No, I’m not dealing with that bike as you purchased it online’. Why? This consumer still needs service work and accessories, and maybe next time they will buy the bike from you. The component that has been purchased online still needs to be fitted, and if you have a great workshop and look after the consumer they may buy the part from you next time.

The first situation should never happen. I know everyone will get busy in-store, but it takes five seconds to say: ‘Hello, I will be with you as soon as possible’. When someone walks into your store, it is because they have a need and a reason to be there. In this unsettled retail market, the last thing you should be doing is alienating a consumer – we all know what happens if you do that!

The internet isn’t going away. You may have to adapt your business in some way, but it is still possible to use the internet to your advantage. Do what the internet can’t do and offer that as part of your unique buying experience. The internet does a lot of good things but so can brick and mortar stores. Retail is hard enough as it is, so don’t go and make it even tougher on yourselves.

‘People buy from people for a reason’. This was told to me on a sales training course over 20 years ago. So, give them a reason!

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