Great expectations - bike shop slaves

Great expectations – bike shop slaves (updated)

Edit: There seems to be quite a lot of discussion surrounding this that focuses on online shopping, which I can understand because it is one of those hot-button topics like helmets and bike registration. Even hinting at the topic gets people excited, and seeing as how I did actually mention it, though it was in passing, I suppose I am at fault, and shouldn’t be surprised that it’s taken a more central role than I wished it to.

This isn’t about buying online vs. buying local. It’s not about shops thinking they are better than they deserve (though that is sometimes the case), or even about some rite of passage that makes customers worthy of good service (which I’m not saying is, or should be, a thing, just to nip that one in the bud…). It’s about attitudes, expectations, or values that people sometimes have that don’t always make sense, and if we thought about it or reversed the roles, would seem rather strange or even a little unjust in some cases.

It’s not restricted to bike shops and it’s not even specific to retail, as people will be people whatever their situation. Some of it may be fairly trivial and easy to brush off, but as with shrinking profit margins, volume can make up for that. I happen to spend a lot of time around bikes and people who are interested in them, and so this is prism through which I am relating my thoughts on the matter. That’s all. I’m also open to the reality that it is not something that happens more in bike retail, but that it is merely my exposure to it that gives me that impression.

Anyway, I hope that clears things up a bit, and if not… feel free to continue commenting!


(warning: the following is going to get a little… ranty…)

We’ve all been there before, and if not, you won’t have any trouble understanding the following scenario: you need something for your bike that you can get from a sports store or an electronics shop, go there, take it off the shelf, pay for it without question, and return home to fit it yourself.

So why is it that while people will do the above with no hesitation, they will enter a bike shop, discuss the purchase at length with the shop assistant, try and swing a discount, and then simply expect them to fit the item at no further charge?

I see time and again the incredulity that washes over the face of consumers when they are (depending on the situation) informed that there might be a fitting charge for fitting the item. It may not necessarily always require an advanced degree of technical expertise to fit, but nevertheless requires, at minimum, someone’s time and a certain level of workmanship and know-how.

It almost makes it worse the easier the item is to fit. It could easily be interpreted as not so much lacking the ability, but simply not being bothered to do it yourself, which, if that is the case, would qualify it as a luxury, and luxuries afforded by the work of others must be paid for. Demanding (and possibly even expecting) that it is done without payment is approaching a master-slave mindset.

Is it because bike shops have workshops and technicians, while big-box electronics stores don’t? Is there simply an assumption (expectation?) that bike shops fit things, so they might as well fit something for me (that I can do myself) for free?

Cycling is a passion for many people, and this is usually the case for those who operate and/or work in a bike shop. Could it be that the more passion a person has for their profession, or even their hobby – and maybe those lines are blurred when talking about bike shops – the more it is assumed that simply working on everyone and anyone’s bike is payment enough?

Why do so many people, who have jobs and bills of their own to pay, by the way, fail to see that a business is indeed a business because the aim is to make a living, even if that business is a bike shop?

I blame the internet for this, in part, but it’s really only a part. The situation is both far more basic and far more complex when you step back and look at the big picture in terms of human behaviour, population, politics, etc. Nevertheless, it’s pretty understandable for consumers to see their local shop selling item X at $y, and their not-so-local internet juggernaut selling item X at $y÷2, and assume that “the bike shop is ripping me off!!! I can assure you that that’s not the case, but what’s the point.

Anyway, it’s just one of the many things that irks me about retail of the bicycle kind, amongst perennial favourites such as refusing to make bookings for services and choosing to simply dump your bike at the shop while you go on holiday for two weeks, actually booking an appointment but not showing up (try doing that at the doctor or dentist or any other professional place of business), or blaming the shop for whatever calamity has befallen your seriously under-maintained steed (but this is top end equipment!?!) simply because they were the last ones to touch it.

Why do people want their local shop to be kept in a constant state of being on the bones of their ass? Of course, they don’t, specifically, but what else does tons of work for no money mean?

The popular line of thought is that “in order to be competitive in the incredibly popular but increasingly over-crowded world of bicycle retail, the local shop must go above and beyond in terms of exceptional service and work to create an unparalleled and unforgettable customer experience”, before, during, and after the customer buys anything. Forever.

Do you ever stop and think of what this actually translates to at the bottom line? It means that while online retailers, especially those located overseas who don’t have to worry about taxes (and get to claim their own back), whose customers don’t have to worry about taxes, duties, or levy’s for pretty much anything (at least here in Australia), who don’t have to worry about time spent on the shop floor explaining to someone the benefits of a $20 light for 15 minutes only to hear, “ok, well, I know that you have it, so I’ll be back if I need it”, and who don’t have to worry about after-sales in the same way, actual shops have to do all of the above, which costs money, and do so at ever-shrinking margins with ever-increasing costs of running a local business, and then do so while people expect you to give them a discount on their $20 purchase because they’ve spent a few dollars there before, and then expect you to fit it for free.

I’ve got to wrap this up, because it’s past my bedtime again, so I’ll have to make a quick exit and rely on a cheap summary:

We all know the difficulty that off-line retail faces in the face of cheaper, delivered-to-your-door online retail, because it’s attractive, obviously.

On top of that, we tend to let the big chain stores off the hook and simply buy what they are offering if it’s the right price, or not, but we’re pretty much in and out.

When we walk into a bike shop, sometimes some people expect them to serve our every whim whenever we want, have a good selection of the latest products, make no actual profit on the stuff we do buy, and should work for free on top of that, like bike shop slaves.

What’s the deal? I’m aware that the other side of the coin is that, quite simply, the local bike shop, as such, is dead. It’s certainly been dying for some time, at any rate. That’s just the cost of doing business, right? I am also aware that there are some shops that are actually raking it in, and good for them.

I’m also, also aware that, this being a rant, it is coming from a what is likely a fairly limited perspective at this very moment (I’m tired), but hey, it’s my soapbox and I’m (not) in the mood…

Let me know what you think in the comments!


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