Times, they are a changin’! Over the past several “Black Fridays,” headlines indicate the rapid growth of online sales over the flat or declining sales at brick and mortar stores. It looks like the traditional rush to the mall for holiday shopping is gradually fading away in favor of shopping in your PJs. And certainly, there are many advantages to that! While the nature of shopping habits are changing, we’d like to put in a plug for the good ‘ole LBS.
If you are shopping for a cyclist on your list, strongly consider buying from your local store, either in-person or on their website. Yes, most local bike shops do have an extensive selection online, offering you the convenience of shopping in those PJs while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate. You can always choose in-store pick-up to save on shipping. Besides the convenience factor, probably the number one reason to shop online is price. While your LBS may not have the lowest prices around compared to some websites, there is a reason for that. Part of what you are paying for when purchasing at your LBS is the personal, one-on-one service you are getting from knowledgeable sales associates who are passionate cyclists in your local community. Now, if you don’t think that service is very good, for whatever reason, then by all means shop elsewhere. A store has to earn their stripes.
When I say “Service,” what do I mean? A lot! If a shop is doing it right, that means you having the ability to walk into a store and ask questions about bikes and accessories from a real live person who is knowledgeable and friendly. Their years of experience can help you avoid potential buying mistakes. They live and ride in your local community as opposed to somewhere else in the country or even overseas. Even if you call or email the store, that sales associate knows you can come by the shop for a personal one-on-one visit anytime, and they hope you do! If someone is hundreds of miles away, they know that’s not happening.
One of the complaints I hear from time to time is that the local bike shop just doesn’t have the product selection. And it is true that the in-store selection is not going to compare to a web store. However, that local store’s website most likely does have that “endless aisle” selection you may be looking for. Because a local bike shop cannot realistically carry so much inventory, one of the services they do provide is a curated product selection. Let’s face it, one of the problems consumers face today is TOO MANY choices. The LBS is spending the time to bring in what they think are the best options for its local customers among the seemingly limitless number of options available. This is usually based on personal experience using the products themselves! So a good LBS has curated a selection they believe to be the best products out there, saving the consumer time and money!
If you decide to make a purchase at the LBS instead of an out-of-state or out-of-country online seller, or an auction site, some additional service you get from the price you paid includes the following: First, it means knowing you bought from an authorized dealer. This means the store and the manufacturer will stand behind the product according to the warranty. Should there be any issues, you just come back to the store and talk with a sales associate in person to handle the issue. No endless phone tag with a remote company, who may not even be authorized dealers of the product. If they’re not, you are out of luck. There are a lot of websites out there participating in the “gray market” who are not authorized to sell a brand’s products or may even be selling knock-offs, so buyer beware.
The price you pay at an LBS also includes the showroom experience. In addition to your interaction with a real live human being, you get to touch and feel the product in a pretty cool environment. Many shops have a place for you to hang out, read the latest magazines, watch some races or videos, and enjoy a coffee or espresso. When it comes to bikes, there is nothing like the test ride and a proper bike fit. You are taking a real risk on your purchase if you skip those two services.
If you do purchase a bike at the LBS, the price you pay typically includes some nice perks worth real money – such as a free tune-up, free bike fit, complimentary adjustments for the life of the bike and sometimes a nice discount on all future tune-ups. Every bike shop is a little different in this respect so see what they offer. Also, be aware of the difference between cost and price. If you add it all up, you may be surprised to realize that the overall cost from purchasing at the LBS is actually lower than that great deal you got for a bike online.
Another service included in the price of a bike at the LBS is the bike build. While not all LBS mechanics are the same, in general, you will find a much higher quality bike build from your LBS than the online retailer or certainly big box store. You will usually have to complete a portion of the bike build yourself on shipped bikes (or bring it to the LBS who will charge a build fee).
Contribution to the local community is also a service which is part of the price charged by the LBS. Is that worth something to you? While this may seem more nebulous, it’s real. Amazon and other remote online sellers contribute nothing to your local cycling community. First and foremost, your LBS employs people in your community. And therefore when you spend dollars locally, more of those dollars stay in your local economy, compared to spending them with an out-of-state or out-of-country remote seller. But beyond that, most local bike shops organize regular shop rides, support organized charity rides and put time and dollars towards improving cycling infrastructure in your community. Often they work with schools to get more kids riding bikes (safely) and contribute their time to get people in lower income areas on bikes. The list could go on and on as each bike shop is a little different.
One of the initial appeals of buying online was the sales tax savings. This has dwindled in recent years as many of the larger online internet retailers also have some sort of “physical” presence in multiple states, such as a warehouse. In addition, more and more states are compelling online sellers to charge sales tax even without a so-called physical presence. As these cases continue to go through the courts, it is more likely Congress will pass a federal internet sales tax law (different bills are pending) that will eliminate the sales tax advantage currently enjoyed by many online sellers. No matter your view on taxes, the sales tax theoretically supports the people of the state you live in. And even factoring in the sales tax, the overall value proposition you get at the LBS when you consider all the SERVICE (as outlined in this blog) built into the price you pay, is usually better at the LBS!
Hopefully, I’ve made a compelling case for shopping at your LBS for all the cyclists on your list this holiday season. Sometimes, when comparing only price tags, consumers don’t take into account the overall value they are getting for that price. It is not an apples to apples comparison. The benefits I’ve described for shopping at your LBS are not spelled out on a price tag. In the end, the LBS must earn your business. If the bicycling consumer does not see the value of the LBS that I’ve outlined above, then ultimately some will go away. Consumers vote with their dollars. There is no doubt that “Cyber Monday” will continue to grow and at some point, we will reach some equilibrium between online sales and bricks & mortar sales. This means the LBS has to adapt and continue to find ways to enhance their value proposition.