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Buying a Bike via Mail Order/Phone or the Internet.
By Tom Demerly

Statistics compiled by retail trade organizations indicate that there has been an overwhelming increase in e-commerce and other forms of “remote” retail where consumers are buying something from a location other than their own and having it shipped. At the same time rising costs of brick and mortar storefronts along with busy schedules of consumers have meant modest growth for traditional retail at best. This trend is prominent in the cycling/triathlon demographic who are also in the highest end of the internet use demographic. As such e-commerce, mail order and remote sales of cycling and triathlon items including complete bikes are growing much faster than traditional sales of the same items.

Advantages to Remote Buying.

There are clear cut advantages to buying anything over the internet or the phone. First, you simply don’t have to go to the store. For busy people who would rather spend their time doing anything but shopping this is attractive.

Internet retailers vary in quality and level of expertise usually by product category. In the sport of cycling and triathlon the most prominent website retailers also tend to be the most experienced with the highest degree of expertise. These retailers can offer a better buying experience and more experienced advice over the phone and via e-mail than most non-specialty retailers could in person.

The best internet retailers not only provide a venue for buying product but also provide a resource for product research and comparison, analysis and commentary. You may not always agree with their assessments, but their learned opinions can be a valuable part of your decision making process. Be careful with websites that rely on buyer’s reviews of products as they are subject to the “vocal majority” syndrome of internet users who may be long on time to review a product, but short on actual expertise to offer a valid opinion. Look for web reviews that compare one product specifically to others and offer statistics and verifiable numbers as a basis for their assessment.

Another advantage to internet buying may be availability, especially for people living in rural settings or any area with low population density. If you live in the sticks it is hard to find specialty items like triathlon equipment and bikes and high end road bikes. Internet retailers can offer vast selections and deliver esoteric products that may be completely unavailable in your area.

Price may be another advantage to buying via the internet. While a discount price can come back to haunt you if products aren’t as represented (see: Disadvantages to Remote Buying, below) the internet does give you a ready basis to see if the price you are paying is fair.

While some retailers complain that discounting is rampant on the internet the fact of the matter is actually the opposite. Modern e-commerce has had the affect of unifying prices and setting consistent values on given products. Most vendors require bona-fide internet retailers to maintain minimum pricing standards in internet advertising. Additionally, most qualified internet retailers know what their prices need to be in order to compete, and are already at those levels. With four or five clicks of a mouse you can do more comparison shopping for price in five minutes than in an entire day off work. More importantly, you can compare from one of the country to the other and even outside the U.S. Even if you don’t buy over the phone or internet and do buy at a brick and mortar retailer this knowledge will serve you well.

In modern retail most brick and mortar stores, especially specialty stores like triathlon and road bike dealers, have an online and mail order component. This means your internet store is also your local store.

Disadvantages to Remote Buying.

While the internet and an expert phone retailer can offer some benefits there are also some real world limitations.

Firstly, you aren’t there where the product is. You simply can’t see, feel and touch it in the same way you may be able to in person. For some people this is an important part of the buying experience. While internet technology provides an excellent interface with the product and the retailer it still isn’t live and three dimensional.

Fit and position are the key component and most important factor in buying a new road or triathlon bike. Selecting the right frame size and geometry is a relatively straightforward process that can be done accurately and dependably over the phone but positioning the rider is more complex. With current internet technology positioning the rider is still a cumbersome project. Web cams and digital cameras combined with motion capture software used to analyze a rider’s position are helping with this, but the shop employee is still not there in your basement or garage with you to swap out handlebar stems and adjust aerobar lengths for that perfectly tuned fit. Because of this you will usually need to take your new bike purchased remotely to a qualified fitter who will save you time and trouble in getting the fit just right and can work with you as your position evolves.

The logistics of buying a bike remotely include assembly of the bike once it arrives. It is always recommended that a new bike shipped to you be assembled and tuned by a qualified bicycle retailer with trained mechanics. This insures correct mechanical assembly and safety.
Another logistical concern in remote bike buying is shipping. Shipping is expensive on bikes since they are large and relatively heavy. The costs of shipping have to be added to the additional costs of assembly and fitting the bike once it reaches you. These can add up.

Bikes can sustain minor cosmetic damage in shipping. A minor scratch in the paint won’t affect the performance of your new bike but may detract from the emotional experience of getting something new. There are two ways to look at this: If you are willing to pay for return shipping and restocking fees your dealer may be willing to replace the bike, but this comes at a price. It may be better to simply realize that all bikes have minor scratches from reasonable and customary use and that these don’t affect the primary reason why you bought the bike: performance.

If I buy a bike over the Internet/Phone will my local bike shop be less cooperative when I visit them for assembly and fitting?

When Internet and mail order sales began two decades ago most local retailers viewed them as a threat. As technology for internet retailing has become less expensive and more sophisticated every retailer now has the opportunity to become a good internet retailer in addition to the local bike shop.

Smart, forward thinking retailers view the internet as a powerful tool for marketing their business, reaching new customers and increasing sales. The local bike shop can use the internet to grow. Forward thinking retailers offer internet specific services such a special assembly/tune-up package for bike bought remotely brought to their shop for assembly. If your shop is a qualified bike fitter they will benefit from your remote purchase by selling you a complete bike fit and positioning in their store. When your local bike shop develops smart ways to work with the internet they will welcome you and your new bike as a great opportunity to provide service and build a relationship while generating valuable, high profit margin revenue. A good local bike store servicing your needs when you buy a new bike on line or over the phone will make as much or more profit as they would have had you bought the bike from them!

As a result of these factors bike shop attitudes toward mail order have changed and forward thinking retailers are embracing internet customers- both on their site and from other sources- as a new and profitable market.

Support you Local Bike Shop (LBS) when buying remotely.
Your local bike shop may not have the price, selection, expertise brand or model you want in a bike, but having them assemble, tune and service your new bike bought over the phone or the internet is an excellent way to support your local bike shop with high profit margin labor and accessory business. They may actually net a higher profit than they would have if you had bought the bike from them!

Buying a bike remotely over the internet is an excellent resource for finding what you need in the size that suits you. It is an opportunity to consult with industry experts before you buy. You have the luxury of talking to people who specialize in the type of riding you are doing everyday and at the highest levels. They can offer a level of expertise unavailable at the local general bike store. It insures the price you pay is competitive and fair and enables you to select who will build and fit your new bike. These are a strong set of advantages when you are deciding where to buy your next bike.

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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