Buying at your local bike shop? Don't be a fool!

Buying at your local bike shop? Don’t be a fool!

 

I’ve spoken about this before, but I just came across a post on Facebook that made me want to revisit the issue.

The replies to this question are actually quite fascinating. Some people attempted to answer the simple question, but mostly the responses were slightly aggressive suggestions that you’d be rather a fool to shop locally. Observe:

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So what have we here, exactly?

Well, at first blush, the person posting the original question appears to have made a decision to patronize a local business. You would think that, because you’d have to be a complete moron to have missed this thing called internet shopping, and seeing that s/he’s figured out how to use a keyboard, that would indicate that s/he’s at least intelligent enough to know that online is cheaper, and if s/he is asking specifically about where is the “best” local bike shop to buy the tyres, must have therefore made the conscious decision to put some money in the till of a local business, for whatever reason.

That’s how I read the situation, anyway.

We are then immediately met with a quick suggestion to purchase them online, because, duh – that’s where you buy things.

The question-asker suggests that this is not answering his/her question, which is followed by another response from a different person, suggesting a different online retailer, with the helpful explanation that one’s letterbox is more local than any shop. This suggests that a primary reason to buy online for this person is the convenience of not having to leave one’s home to acquire things.

This is followed by the original responder, in a slightly more aggressive tone, offering the suggestion that indeed, your computer is local enough, and seems quite upset at the gall of the question-asker to think otherwise, FFS.

Anyways, it carries on like this for quite some time, as you know, but there are just a couple of issues that I’d like to unpack a little.

1. There are actually quite a few compelling reasons to shop online.

See, I’m not quite as stupid as I appear.

There are the usual reasons why people are interested in shopping online, such as cheaper prices, of course, but also the huge selection and the convenience of having it come to you, quite often faster than ordering it from a shop. Plus, you don’t have to deal with douche-bag bike shop staff.

That last one is, obviously, a bit sarcastic, but many people do sometimes have experience with douche-bag bike shop staff at least at some shops. The perfect storm of finding a shop that stocks what you want to buy, is local enough, and has staff that make you want to be there, does not always leave you with as many options as some may think.

This problem is made all the more easy to circumvent with the ever-increasing selection of cheap online goods delivered to your door. You don’t have to select from the best of what is local to you like you maybe did in the past. You simply get what you want, at a fraction of the price, with absolutely no hassle (until it brakes and nobody locally will warranty it for you, or it doesn’t fit and you can’t simply go to the shop to exchange it [unless you’ve showroomed it first, like a really classy person], or they send you the wrong product, etc).

So, shopping online is, for quite a few reasons, quite a rational thing to do.

But lets say that there are one or more shops local to you that do stock what you want that aren’t full of douche-bag staff members. Now we get down to price, which leads us to the remaining points:

2. Assuming that bike shops have the option to match prices, but choose not to.

Usually, price is the number one reason why people buy online. Before the interweb there was mail order, but aside from that, your options were to choose between local shops. The market was nowhere near as flooded as it is today, and the world was a much smaller place. Which is to say, things used to be on a more level playing field, the market is extremely saturated, and everyone is in a race to the bottom.

With a global market made up of different economies and currencies and exchange rates, there are deals to be had even before you factor in grey-market imports, big brands off-loading their OEM products cheaply, and in the case of Australia, no meaningful tariffs on anything coming into the country (which is a massive kick in the nuts to local businesses who have to not only pay tax, but crippling levels of fees, levies, taxes, duties, processing charges, and whatever else they can come up with to stick onto the invoice).

The reality is that with increasing regularity, the price your local bike shops buys stock at is the same or less than what you, the consumer, can find it online and delivered to your door. There is no opportunity for the local bike shop to even try to get your business. Good customer service only goes so far when there is that much of a price discrepancy.

Because of this price discrepancy, people simply assume that the lowest price they can find an item selling for, somewhere in the universe, is what a given product should be selling for anywhere in the universe. Like anything above that is just evidence of a greedy seller. Like they’re getting ripped off if they pay a dollar more for the same product elsewhere. Like the shop is really just insinuating that consumers are stupid.

As wealth continues to shift, there are many people who have less disposable income, and people want to stretch their money further (or, equally, that more people are wanting to live a champagne lifestyle on beer money, which access to cheap champagne readily encourages). Instead of simply living a lifestyle you can afford, you can now, often enough, shop around for the lifestyle you want. Most of the time, you can find it (though it may catch up with you at some point).

The fact remains, however, that in an industry like bike retail, profits are slim. I’m sure this has only gotten worse, but aside from 70% of shops going broke in the first three years, using figures from the U.S. from 2013,

the typical bicycle dealer needs about a 36% profit margin to cover the costs of doing business and break even financially. Studies also show the average realized profit margin on bicycles to be around 36%, which is a break-even proposition devoid of profit. Fortunately accessories products generally carry a higher profit margin than bicycles. Still, the average bike dealer’s profit is less than 5% at year’s end — about $25,000 for an average size store of $500,000 in annual sales.

Hardly sounds worth it, doesn’t it?

3. Bike shops are not allowed to make a profit.

Where does this idea that bike shop owners are all bathing in piles of money coming from? Yes, some have done fairly well for themselves, but increasingly, shop owners are just making enough to put food on the table and have a few dollars left over to enjoy themselves with.

More generally, though, why is it the case that everyone believes that they are the only person who should be earning a living? You get paid for going to work, right? You’d like to get paid more, too, I’m sure. Why is it, then, that nobody else should? How do you expect increasingly better service, huge selection, stock on hand, a slick shop with a fleet of test bikes, free servicing, and anything else that you might want, at increasingly non-existent profit margins?

Again, I think it comes down to the fact that people take the cheapest international price for an item and apply it to that item locally, regardless of context, and assume that every dollar above that is padding the pockets of those greedy local bike shop owners.

Anyway, at the end of the day, whatever your opinions are about shopping locally or not, you still can’t blame international businesses from taking advantage of the ability to sell cheaper online, and the ridiculous way that Australia, especially, seems to desperately want to send consumers money out of the country at the expense of local businesses. Nor can you blame consumers for choosing to spend less for a given product.

Except…

4. Now it’s gotten to the point where it’s not merely suggesting that you can get a product for less elsewhere…

…it’s now asserting that you are an idiot if you don’t buy from where is cheapest, no matter what your motivation. Like it offends you that someone wants to shop locally.

The question above of “where can I buy something locally” was met with a flurry of responses aggressively recommending that the person buy online, because local shops are needlessly expensive and full of dickheads. Many people I know – the majority, actually – don’t even think about buying locally, but simply click “checkout” and wait for the courier to arrive, and although they’ll wholeheartedly recommend it to one and all, they don’t think you’re an idiot for not doing so. This new level of animosity towards shopping locally is really quite alarming, I think, and perplexing.

From whence has the animosity towards the general idea of spending money at a local shop emerged from it’s dank, dark hole? If shops simply don’t have the ability to match prices (or even get sort-of close), and are even struggling as it is, then what causes the strong emotional response from people that local shops are nothing more than smarmy rip-off merchants who are getting rich off of your stupidity? You dummy.

Maybe someone can explain this to me, because I’m lost. I didn’t realize that the entire concept of a local bike shop had become tarred and feathered in such a way as to cause anyone willing to shop there to be guilty by association.

Maybe I’m just a bit slow on the uptake. Have local bike shops as a whole really become such a distasteful experience? Is the concept not only dead, but is the putrid smell of it’s rotting corpse ruining your appetite for Super-Record-for-the-price-of-Veloce?

After all that, the person asking the question in the post above didn’t actually want to support a local bike shop in the end anyway. “I want to shop locally, but only if you’re as cheap as the cheapest online price I have found, so as to expect you to fill your shelves with unprofitable goods”, is a great way to say, “I value your contribution to cycling in my neighborhood and wish to develop even the tiniest relationship with you for our mutual benefit.”

Ah, screw it. Just suck ’em dry and get ’em gone. We don’t need local shops anyway. Right?

The dickheads.

 

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