In an internet vs local bike shop ride to the death there is only ever going to be one winner. Or perhaps not….
Take record shops as an example, they are now so rare they have become popular again. Unable to compete with a move to digital downloading and monolithic, online, tax-haven based megastores, the fate of your local record shop – if it’s still open – rests with retro hipsters.
Internet vs local bike shop
It’s a great shame but if the market doesn’t exist, there’s really not much anyone can do. But what about your local bike shop? Is the writing on the wall for them too? Will they whittle down until a few remain where old school cyclists go?
Well known road bikes, e-bikes and mountain bikes can be bought at vastly reduced prices online. You can also take a risk on completely unknown – made in China – brands. Cycling related products can be picked up at incredible prices online, can your local bike shop compete?
The answer, somewhat unsatisfactorily, is that it depends. As much as it would be nice to return to the white picket fence days of friendly local bike shops being the only option – the internet exists and there is no denying it has its advantages. So, will they learn to live together, or will one destroy the other?
For this internet vs local bike shop battle let’s start with the advantages of shopping for bike gear online. Fairly obviously, the major benefits are price and choice.
With lower overheads thanks to location and staffing issues being less of a concern, online retailers can sell at a lower margin. It’s just a fact that whatever you need, you can get it cheaper online.
There’s also the convenience factor. If you’re sitting around in your pants at three in the morning, you can order a new saddle online. You can’t (nor would you want to) pop down to your local bike shop and get one at that time.
You also don’t have to deal with know-it-all sales assistants patronising you. Just because you don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of negative spring mechanisms or hydraulic rear lockouts, it doesn’t mean you don’t know bikes.
OK, we know most people who work in local bikes shops are lovely. But you can’t deny that there’s the odd bike-shop-employee whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make themselves feel important at the customers expense. We all know the type – they’ve always got the higher spec model at home…
Also no one likes to be sold things they don’t need. We’ve all been to a auto-garage to replace a worn tyre only to be told the clutch, exhaust and fan belt need replacing. Same goes with bikes we don’t want to be coerced into buying what we don’t need, and the internet means we can avoid pushy sales techniques.
Local bike shop advantages
All of that being said, the local bike shop still has something the Internet doesn’t: knowledge. Unless you really, really know what you’re doing, the vast variety of similar, yet subtly different, parts is very daunting.
When you buy online you have to be very sure you’re getting the right part for your bike. But take it to an expert in a bike shop and you get it right every single time. Local bike shops know their bikes and they’ll make sure you get the right part and its fitted with care and attention.
The bike shop is a place with a wealth of knowledge. Whatever you need or whatever has gone wrong with your bike, they have seen it all before and know how to fix it.
Apart from the occasional bad egg (as mentioned above) they usually do it with a smile and a friendly helping of advice. When was the last time a computer generated thank you message made you feel genuinely welcome after an online purchase?
This expertise is invaluable and definitely the major strength of any physical shop. They may not be able to compete on prices but they can easily win the war on customer service. As we said before, if you know what you’re doing, then buying online is a genuine option.
But then again, if you’re that into cycling, a huge part of the cycling community is the local bike shop. And for the rest of us mortals that can’t fit or fix everything, the shop is an invaluable resource for keeping our bikes on the road.
Ride to the death
The internet will always triumph on price and convenience. For the bike shop to thrive, or even simply survive, they must accept this and try to fill in all the spaces that the Internet can’t accommodate and get an active, engaged and loyal customer base.
Price is important for sure but it isn’t the be all and end all. Quality and service are just as important. But don’t feel guilty for shopping online. It’s the modern world, there’s no point being a Luddite for the sake of it.
Consumables like tyres, tubes and chains are just better value online. But if you need something you can’t do yourself, take it to your local bike shop. And please don’t buy online and then take it down to the shop when you realise you can’t fit it yourself, it’s not considered good form.
Ultimately in this internet vs local bike shop ride to the death, for the local bike shop to survive it needs our help. But it has to earn it. In short, it’s survival of the fittest. The good shops that have great staff will survive. Those that aren’t so good will go the same way as most of the record shops.
Enjoyed this internet vs local bike shop article? Check out our other mountain biking articles for more of the same.