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Hello everyone,

I am just curious what everyone thinks about an online cycling store?  OK with it?  Love it?  Hate it?  I personally feel that there is no harm to the LBS.  I would never buy a complete bike online, but I would purchase the frame, components, and accessories.  I like the option of being able to order something I want, anytime I want.  And I can have it delivered to my front door, or my office.  I do make sure that it's a trusted site and that there are product reviews available.

What are your thoughts?

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That's a tricky one. I make a conscious effort to split my purchases between the LBS/specialty shop, on-line, big-box bike shops, and re-use sites like craigslist. I know which shops in town carry which items and if I can, I will buy local. If they have to order it - I may as well do it myself and bundle with other items and get it delivered to my door. I feel like I have "relationships" with several shop owners and like to pop in and show my face every one in awhile and I know they appreciate the business.
I could go into great detail about why online shops are good or bad, and why LBS's have a hard time competing on price. But I'll assume that most folks here know that stuff already. So, as someone who's worked at an LBS for over 15 years, let me get philosophical and political for a moment:

1. The LBS provides better customer service than an online dealer can. They do this by hiring more experienced staff and paying them more -- and in some cases, treating them better -- than the handful of warehouse workers employed by the online dealer.

2. Money that is earned in your town tends to stay there in greater amounts, by being spent at other local businesses. Keeping local dollars local is how those towns and cities survive and thrive.

3. Online dealers cannot provide "relationship" with a customer, because that's not their job! Very often the support or salesperson on the phone (or Live Chat) isn't even at the warehouse, but in another building (or even another city) altogether; and they usually have a supervisor listening in to make sure your question is answered and you are gotten off the line as quickly as possible.

4. Your LBS staff know the local bike scene, can recommend great places to ride, safer routes to work or school, and engage in community events to help grow and build bicycle-based relationships with the public. They know that getting people excited about riding bikes is the best way to build a strong local business.

The online warehouse and the LBS get their parts from the same place -- a factory far, far away (usually, though not always, in China). I won't try to greenwash the argument by saying that buying everything from your LBS is better from a sustainability or fair-wage standpoint -- unless that LBS makes it a point, as we do, to promote products made locally, or at least in the same country we do business in. We can't do that with everything -- the entire world's supply of butyl inner tubes are manufactured in one of just two gigantic factories -- but we do it where we can, with bags and saddle covers and anything else we can find made where we live.

Eventually, the online dealers may win. LBS's may eventually and finally succumb to the American public's outsized sense of entitlement about acquiring cheap goods immediately. What will be left in that case will be only a few "niche", boutique dealers catering to the relative minority of bike enthusiasts with bottomless reserves of discretionary income and very particular tastes. In that sort of future, my shop -- and hundreds of other shops just like it, in cities and towns across America -- would likely close. If that happens I can't say I'll be shocked -- though I will be deeply sad. Because when small businesses die, jobs dry up, people move away and houses become empty and boarded up, with no one else to fill them because there aren't enough jobs nearby. Ultimately that's how a neighborhood, a community, can die.

And all of that is why I think it's better to support your local bike shop whenever possible, even if it costs more and you have to buy your new drivetrain over three or four paychecks instead of one.
Brick and Mortar bike shops will die for one reason...owners will not pay older professional mechanics and sales people enough money to have competent employees on staff. Around here almost every bike shop is staffed by punk kids who treat people terribly and know nothing about the product. I can't count how many people complain (especially women) about how they are treated at bike shops. Owners need to quite bitching about losing sales to internet retailers and start employing competent, courteous, knowledgeable people....or die.
Another LBS employee chiming in,

A LBS has a hard time competing with prices for online shops. Service is usually better/more knowledgeable etc. But I'm not even going to address those things. The convenience and price are not always as great as they seem. I'm not saying that everyone falls for these traps, but a LOT of people do.

-if money is really that tight that you need to scrape, then it's important to buy the right bike/frame/component the FIRST time around. A lot of people start out with the cheap option and then "upgrade" later. Buying the right bike the first time around is often cheaper.

-Online reviews are great, but think of your dumbest co-worker, imagine he rides a bike, now imagine he made an online product review.

-You can't discount the ability to test ride a bike and to get feedback on the fit from the shop employees. The world is full of people riding the wrong size bike. Any reputable shop should make sure they don't sell you the wrong size bike. Sizes are different across styles of bikes and manufacturers. It's not enough to say "I'm X'xx" tall, so I should ride a xx cm bike." Yeah, you can make a bike fit you better, but then you need to add in the cost of all the trial and error stems and setback seatposts you buy to make your bike fit better.

-shipping adds up, not all the time, but people are very quick to ignore the shipping price when they talk about how much they paid for something.

-online isn't always faster. Some of our orders come in 2 days.

-it's really easy to order the wrong thing online. People don't talk about it because they don't like to admit they were wrong, but this happens a LOT. check craigslist, you can often read between the lines and realize that someone ordered something incompatible online because they didn't know any better. So now they have to sell it. I totally appreciate "Doing it yourself" but how many people do you know that have a bike that is in a constant metamorphosis because they keep trying to rectify some nebulous problem that they don't know how to fix?

-returning things through the mail is (in my opinion) more trouble than it's worth.

-If I see a bunch of stuff listed way under MSRP, I'm human. I'm tempted to buy it just because it's "such a good deal." But often, it's stuff I don't need, and then you have a lot of crap that you probably wouldn't have bought if you were in a bike shop instead.

Again, LBS's have a hard time meeting online prices, but there are a lot of pitfalls to buying online that people don't talk about that often. I like inexpensive stuff as much as the next guy, but it's not always that big of a difference.
I agree 100% with Beth. I would also like to add you get your stuff much faster from the LBS if it is in stock. You also can get the hands on and fitting of a jersey or shoes before you just take a gamble and hope the shimano and sidi 44 are really the same fit.
In the ideal world the LBS is the way to go.

While it is easy to get on one's high horse and have feckled specced posts about the issue. One has to take into account other factors. For example for some online shops are the easiest way to get stuff simply based on where they live. Specifically remote places where they have no choice.

Let us not ignore the reality of the available distributors for the LBS based on Country. For example Canada has a monopoly of the big 2 who pretty much dictate the prices because there is no one else. the rest are the little guys. Because of this getting some parts are insanely overpriced and you are better getting them them online. For example Hope BB's. I Canada I was told $250 for the stainless steel version. Yet I can get the exact same BB from the UK for example for almost $150 less. And after shipping and customs I still pay about $100 less. I'm not stupid. I know when I'm getting financially raped.
These are good points to raise. I'm writing from the perspective of someone living and working in a large US city. Clearly, rural residents have found that online retailing of all kinds has definitely eased the job of getting the things they need. All I'm saying is that there is no such thing as unsubsidized convenience; the costs are hidden somewhere and ultimately we all end up paying for that perceived convenience in some way.
LBS are generally expensive and good advice is few and far in between. I'll usually take my bikes in if I need work done on the bikes that I either can't do on my own because I don't have the technical knowledge or because I don't have a specific tool. Convenience isn't always there either. For instance, the last time I went to the LBS for tubes for the CX bike they had nothing that would work. It's frustrating when the biggest size they carry with a 48mm valve stem is 700x18-23.

I'm with Travis, I probably wouldn't buy a complete bike, shoes, helmet online. I would buy everything else though.
I like the idea so much that I'm in the process of starting an online shop! I am also partnering with a LBS. As an online dealer I plan to offer top end road and cross bikes, components and kit that you usually can not find at your LBS. Partnering with a friend's shop will give us more buying power while allowing us to offer a great variety of build options. We will also have product reviews and special members only deals.

thanks,
Bruce
I can see the arguments on both sides. Although I tend to disagree a little more with those debating for the LBS but only for the reasons that would give a good online retailer a bad reputation.

I don't think that the LBS will ever go away....well at least anytime soon. I think, even though the online sales will grow, there will always be that need for the LBS. New generation or old, some people like to make friends with the locals and like to take their bikes to get wrenched locally. The local shops are also usually sponsoring a local team, athletes, and events.

On the side of customer service. I currently work for an online office supply company and our number one goal is customer service, even over price. So there's this perception that all online companies have no customer service value. I think where the mix up is, is the difference between a big box store and an independent dealer (online or brick & mortar). I try to support the independent dealer as much as possible. Typically these same big box stores are the ones whom are flooding the market will low prices and low quality. Yes, it may be hard for current LBS owners or employees to admit it, but I think whether your an online dealer, or a brick & mortar, what matters most is that you are an independent dealer. That is what makes our country and economy going. Or should I say, "that will help bring it back."

I also don't think that "independent" online dealers are not going to want to hire "dumb" employees just as much as a LBS wouldn't want to. If that dealer is knowledgeable and loves the cycling world, they have not started their online business strictly for financial gains, they too love the sport and the community, but wish to expand themselves to the online community. Someone has got to do it. The online shoppers are not there because you're there, the online dealer is there because that is where the customer is. This takes us back to the number priority.....CUSTOMER SERVICE. You have to be willing to give them whatever THEY want, whenever THEY want it.

As far as delivery goes, the time lines are probably about the same right now. Eventually the distributors will begin to drop-ship product right to the end users and once that happens, things may change quite a bit. The distributors may not admit to it right now, or even realize it at this moment, but within the next couple years they will probably be doing it.
Bruce,

You have the right idea. I say this because I'm in the same boat as you. I'm currently working with a LBS and hope to be online in the next 6 months. Although I will not be offering any complete bikes online, I will maybe offer frames. But I will focus on high end components, accessories, and gear.

Good luck to you!
I have to say that we've found the "online only" approach doesn't work. Maybe its because we're a mix of service and parts, but we've always found that people still prefer the LBS over the online locations. It might also be what our consumer demographics are, whereas people who are shopping online for parts pretty much already know what they want - they just try to find it for the lowest cost. Our customers tend to appreciate the guidance of the LBS in setting up wheels for them, which is something we cannot directly provide.

We end up shipping more than half of our rentals to bike shops that the customer requests. Though we have found that LBS are not interested in partnering with us in an obvious fashion, we have found that we are starting to send packages to the same address in certain areas for different customer names. So, I think LBS are starting to embrace a "half and half" approach, which it sounds like Bruce and Travis are also foraging into. Just make sure you guys clearly establish who's "territory" is who's.

We've also started to have more consistent "shop hours" here in Trexlertown, PA at the velodrome. While its an extremely well educated crowd and there are shops within a stone's throw from us, our services and immediacy of product availability thwart price hunting online.

And through this, I have to say that Competitive Cyclist has done an excellent job in presenting a model by which other bike industry folks should learn from: Uphold MSRP not only allows you to keep your marketing tight, it upholds the value of the products you sell. While bike guys will always hunt for the lowest possible price, the reason certain products have their "allure" remains because of their pricepoint. Slashing that just to make a sale just hurts everyone, including the customer who now has a devalued product.

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