How to be a bad bike shop customer

How to: be a bad bike shop customer (part 1)

While on the topic of trying to keep to the lighter side of cycling, I thought I’d unearth a post from the vault that, while being a slightly cathartic process for me, is also just a bit of fun… albeit at someone else’s expense…

At any rate, what we have here was the first installment of what became a somewhat less-than-regular how-to guide. Sure, some of them may sometimes be something practical like how to change a tube/tyre without bursting into tears, but sometimes it may very well be something far more important, like what you will find below.

Anyone who has worked in any kind of environment where you must deal with the public has a list of things that people do that gets under their skin. The kind of business it is will generate a different list, but I’m quite confident that everyone’s got one. People are more or less the same wherever you go, so these lists, although industry specific, will generally apply to most places in the world. From years of working in retail and the last bunch working in bike shops, this is mine. You may identify with many of these, or you may find yourself on it. Either way, have a read through and consider the good folks at your local shop (or not, if the local shop is full of wankers). So, without further ado…

How to be a bad bike shop customer (in no particular order)

1. Mention, in any way, having bought, or planning to buy, any item for any bike, on the internet. We get it. Sometimes it’s really cheap. Like, so cheap that even shops consider buying it (and do) from the internet. That’s not the problem (it’s a problem, but not the problem here). The problem is bringing it up. That’s just poor form. We all know it happens, but like your debilitating penchant for cross-stitching portraits of Alex Trebek, it’s just not something you bring up in good company. Let’s look at a couple of specific examples so you can be clear about how this works.

  • “Hello local bike shop, I just received a new crankset from, and would like you to put them on for me.” Yes, we will. No, you will not get any kind of special treatment, bro-pricing or anything other than full and proper retail (like there is a problem with that in the first place?), or anything else other than a properly fitted crank, now that you have mentioned it. This is not due to the fact that you bought them online, but more due to the fact that you have essentially rubbed it in our faces. “What? No I didn’t!”, you cry. Well, try this one on for size: “Hello local bike shop, could you fine folks fit a crankset for me please?” “Yes, no problem”, will be the answer. There is no need to bring up the fact that you chose not to shop locally, but now need them to do your dirty work for you. Just ask them nicely to do your dirty work, and all will be well with the cosmos.
  • “I can get that cheaper online”. Of course you can. You can get everything cheaper online. This is a bit of a tricky one, because it depends on how you bring this up. If you genuinely have a desire to buy something from your local shop but the item is cheap enough online that it becomes difficult to turn down, either don’t bother the shop and just buy it online, or at least give them a chance and ask if they can get close enough to the online price to make it worthwhile. Don’t present the cheaper price as evidence that the local shop is trying to rip you off. That, quite simply, is a ridiculous notion these days. Consumers never-ending demand for cheaper products means that profit margins are generally far from lucrative, at least at the local shop level.

2a. Showrooming. You already know the price of the item you want online, but you really want to make sure it’s right for you. You go in to the local shop, see the price on the item, and know that you will not be buying it there, and yet you still choose to take up the shops time and advice, try on the shoes, try to get them to tell you the correct size of bike to order, or do anything else that you need to know before hand, and then dish up a heaping helping of, “thanks, now I know it’s here”. Newsflash: shops know what you’re doing, and often (not always), they’re right. Helpful tip: if you ask, “What size frame do I need” as your opening question, you have been busted. If you have no intention of buying the shoes from the shop, then take the level of service that the online shop offers and go through their return process if they are not right. That’s one reason why product online is cheaper, and good shops are worth dealing with, so deal with it.

2b. “Thanks, now I know it’s here”. Ummm, pretty sure you had all the information you required when you a) saw them right in front of you, or b) after asking, “do you have X?”, the staff answered, “Yes”. The two or three questions you asked about product X after you knew they were there and before you said “now I know it’s here” gives the staff a clear indication that you have just wasted their time. Be more clever.

(A small percentage of people can end up using it as simply an awkward conversation ender after believing that they can get it cheaper elsewhere, but not necessarily on-line.)

3. Get angry at a shop for something they had nothing to do with. Buying an item either online or from another shop because it was dirt cheap, it fails, and when taking it to the local shop to get it fixed or dealt with on warranty, getting all upset because they are either charging you a fair rate for repair or they aren’t too keen on absorbing the cost and time of dealing with a warranty claim that they have made no money from in the first place. Again, you want online pricing, deal with online after-sales (which isn’t all terrible, for the record).

Note: I promise that these aren’t all to do with the internet – it’s just that I started with it and I’m on a roll…

4. Mobile phone use. Enter the shop while talking loudly on your mobile phone. Or, take a call while you are mid-converstaion with a staff member without a very good reason, and without being appropriately contrite about it.

5. Don’t consider shop staff to be actual human beings. None of us like to be badgered by shop staff when we walk into a store. Curiously, at the same time, if too much time passes (usually not much), we get all indignant if they haven’t at least greeted us so as not to appear to be ignoring us. So, when you walk into a shop and one of the staff says, “Hi, how are ya?” with a smile, yet with no physical approach or follow-up question so as to give you your space, this is not a hard sell, and the correct response is, “Good, thank you”, reciprocating the smile and making eye contact. Incorrect responses include:

  • Ignoring them. Don’t acknowledge them in any way. No response, no movement in their direction, no smile, no anything. Just keep looking busy looking at whatever you are currently looking at.
  • Respond to “Hi” or “How’s it going” with a flat and immediate, “Just looking”, even though that was not the question. Make no attempt to receive them as a person. Extra points for blurting it out before they have even finished speaking.
  • Look at them without saying anything. That’s just weird. Or a challenge.

I understand that some shops or shop staff do have a habit (or policy!) of pouncing on customers as soon as they walk in, which is very annoying, and that makes some people defensive when entering any shop, but guess what? You don’t have to go back to that shop if they aren’t cool. Plus, you entered their shop. You’re in their house. You would be pretty upset if someone came to your house and ignored you or were offended that you wondered why they were there, wouldn’t you?

6. Just turn up with a bike and expect it to be serviced there and then. I’m not sure of too many shops that will actually turn you away even if they can’t physically accommodate another bike hanging around, but I’m also not sure of too many shops that wouldn’t rather you called ahead first. A good workshop is usually booked ahead, and most shops need to keep as much stock on hand as they can because everyone wants everything right now. As a result, most shops have a limited amount of space for bikes needing a service hanging around for a week or four.

There are three parts to this. The first is that it’s funny how many people rock up at a bike shop with a bike to leave there without an appointment, but they would never just rock up to the doctors or dentist or car garage or pretty much anything else and expect that they be seen right away. Why is it just bike shops?

The second part is, if you do just turn up and the shop is in fact booked with work, you then get all upset at the shop and storm out because of the “lack of service”. I understand that it is a common human response to get upset when your efforts are rebuffed, but if you had called first, you would not have had to put the bike in the car, drive to the shop, get it out of the car, and then return home or go to the next shop to try your luck, and you wouldn’t need to have wasted any time or nay energy getting mad. Even if the shop can take you right away, as sometimes happens, wouldn’t it just be easier to know this beforehand, never mind the part where you are being respectful of the shops time?

Thirdly, if the shop can’t service your bike straight away or even in the next couple of days, you are cool with this and say, “no problem! I don’t need it for a couple of weeks anyway!”. That’s great for you, but it’s a bike shop, not a storage facility. See lack of storage space above. Now, on this point, it is a rare bike shop indeed that won’t do their best to accommodate you and magically create space for yet another bike, but it doesn’t make life any easier for any shop that isn’t massive and it follows from making the phone call before hand. Basic levels of respect is all that is required. Really basic.

7. After you have been contacted to say that your bike is ready, leave it there for a week or two. Or three. Or four… Same as above, really. Extra points for the person who absolutely grills you to just squeeze their bike in because they really need it for whatever, and then for some reason decides that it’s not really that important to pick up straight away after all.

8. Spend no money at the shop and expect to be “hooked up” with preferential deals. This point has been echoed by others elsewhere, but it is a good one. Think about it: lets say that you do actually buy some things from your local shop. That’s great. You like supporting that shop, because they give you good service and have or can get you what you want/need. Are you still supporting them if you expect to get everything at a big discount? Unless you are spending dollars or pounds in the 5 digit range each year, you should not be expecting all your gear at near cost, ESPECIALLY if your claim is that you want to support your local business. Let this rattle around in your head for a while: “I support my local bike shop and am proud of it – even vocal, but expect them to make no actual profit from my patronage. My shopping there is payment enough, actual profit is unnecessary.” Yeah, makes sense to me, too… Good shops usually reward good customers with perks and deals commensurate to how much they like you, then how much you spend there.

Now, lets say you purchased one thing from your local shop three years ago, have bought nothing of consequence since, come in only when you need the shops help with something and usually only when the shop you have been spending money at lately won’t or can’t provide it (fixing your bike, doing a warranty, getting advice, etc), and expect it all to be free in the name of hooking-up a good customer? Lets even say that, not only have you not spent any money there recently, but you have bought your last two bikes and other gear from other shops or online, and you still do this? Reasonable? Logical? Astonishing?

9. Ask “what is your best price”, at any time in the conversation other than at the very end. The end shall be defined as: after you have discussed your needs and wants; after you have decided if you want to spend any money in that particular shop; and, after you have discussed the particular model, colour, spec, and any accessories.

10. Go through the time-consuming process detailed in step 9 and then derail the entire process by revealing that you are expecting that $6000 bike for $4000. That will be a lot of time wasted for both parties. If you don’t have a very good reason for expecting that a bike or accessory is going to go cheap (you’ve been told, or the shop has a sale on), then don’t waste anyone’s time. Sure, have a cheeky crack at it, but don’t expect it, and don’t have all sorts of attitude about it. Basically, don’t be a cheap, low-balling prick. At least, not in any shop you wish to continue dealing with.


Anyone that would like to add, augment, or argue any of the above tips on how to be a bad bike shop customer, please feel free to add a comment below.

Rest assured that there will be a part 2, and possibly more, still to come. This was just the low-hanging fruit…


Header image: source