By Dafydd Huws, Troll Outdoors and DexShell
2020 has been, as I am sure we would all agree, the strangest of years. From lockdowns and social distancing to an almost unprecedented demand for cycling, it is a year that will live long in the memory of every bike shop for reasons bad and good. However, it could be argued that 2020 has also seen the cycling market in the UK fast-forwarded by several years as more and more consumers are being drawn to the market for the first time. This has fuelled both the rise in demand for e-bikes (and bikes in general) and the need for retailers to look at their current stock and firmly question whether they are fully meeting the needs of these ‘new to cycling’ consumers.
Interest in e-bikes was already increasing rapidly in the pre-COVID world and as a result of this, the industry saw an increase in the number of people returning to cycling and, perhaps, an increase in demand from the more mature end of the population. Couple this with Government incentives and increased cycling participation, and we clearly see that the ‘new to cycling’ and the returning cyclist consumers and commuters offer shops of all sizes a major opportunity. This begs the question though… what exactly does this consumer want? It is dangerous to generalise, so I won’t. The truth is that each consumer will have their own individual requirements based on their experience of cycling, age, fitness level and so on. However, from speaking to retailers and other brands in the industry, some general traits are appearing in their conversations with this new market.
Firstly, the new consumer is often unaware of cycling accessory brands, safety standards and sometimes entire sectors of product that are available for their comfort and safety. They have no preconceived ideas of which brand is best, nor are they likely to care who wears what brand in Le Tour. They are likely to want function first, ‘cool’ brands second. In this way, it is also perhaps fair to say that many new cycle commuters are seeking warmth and comfort in their cycle clothing with, wherever possible, some crossover into their workwear. Multifunctionality means better value for money for this sector even more so than ‘traditional’ cyclists. For example, they don’t particularly want to start the day with cold or wet feet and hands so, my obvious bias aside, a good waterproof sock and glove ticks many of these boxes.
To take that example further, many of those who are unfamiliar with cycling or outdoor pursuits don’t even know waterproof socks exist! This highlights the need for education. Education, education, education. While this will sound familiar to those of a certain age and will undoubtedly bring back good or bad memories for you, the principle remains; education is key. These new consumers – once they have bought their bike or e-bike (or even if they are digging out that old 1970s Raleigh from the shed for the first time in 20 years) – will be looking to accessorise and make their (re)introduction to cycling as comfortable as it can possibly be, and this goes far beyond just gloves and a helmet.
As you know, this has the potential to be a whole new wardrobe and some extra sales for you. My point here is that they will need guiding, depending on their personal circumstances, to certain accessories more than others. Once there, they may well need an explanation as to the technology behind each product and what separates brand X from brand Y and, importantly, what separates price X from price Y. Let’s be honest here. For non-cyclists, our world is a hugely baffling one. Heck, it is baffling to us a lot of the time too… new standards, new technology, new wheel sizes, new sectors – and that’s just by mid-summer.
The second half of the year will likely bring more new things to throw into the mix and stock to modify. It’s exciting to be part of an ever-evolving industry, of course, but to these new consumers, it’s a minefield of information that they will be looking to you to guide them through. We, as brand representatives, have a duty to help you in doing this by communicating clearly with you and ensuring you have the right stock of the right product when you need it. We also need to make sure you have all the information about our products to hand so you can educate the end-user and make them a loyal customer for us both.
The world is changing at an unprecedented rate and we as an industry can only meet the needs of our joint consumers if we work together and educate them about the best product(s) for their circumstances based on their individual needs, not on historic sales, who does the best marketing or which brands have a clearance sale or ‘kick-ass’ buy-in offer. By offering the range of accessories that this rapidly expanding market is seeking – even if they don’t yet know they exist – as opposed to what we just want to sell them, you will enjoy more repeat custom and some strong word of mouth recommendations. That can’t be a bad thing can it? Embrace the e-revolution and the new consumers heading our way. They are a major part of our future so let’s make it a good one for all of us.