My buddy Joseph at the local bike shop, Decatur Bikes. Photo: mudhunny.
Want to start a heated discussion among mountain bikers? Just ask a group of riders where they buy their MTB gear. Supporting the local bike shop is a rallying cry for many while value-conscious riders flock to internet retailers in search of the best deals. We’ve actually been asking mountain bikers (anonymously) about their shopping habits for several years now and today I’d like to share some of our findings.
How do mountain bikers decide where to shop?
We asked singletracks members what was most important to them in deciding where to spend their cash and according to the more than 2,500 respondents, product selection is #1 (31%). Coming in a close second, is lowest prices (27%), neither of which bodes well for the higher-overhead, small mom & pop bike shop. Still, the next most popular responses – great customer service, relationship with the retailer, and speed/convenience – add up to 41% and are all attributes typically associated with the local bike shop.
Given mountain bikers’ priorities in choosing where to buy gear, you’d think big box / chain bike shops would have an edge over the local bike shop and online retailers since they’re able to offer a wide selection, competitive prices, and an opportunity to provide great service plus convenience. But it turns out that’s not the case.
Where do mountain bikers shop primarily?
Clearly most riders don’t buy all their bike gear in the same place every time so we asked folks where they shopped the most (nearly 3,500 responses). A big majority – 62% – said their primary bike gear outlet is the local bike shop. A quarter (25%) of our members reported turning to the internet for most purchases which is still less than half as many as the local bike shop customers. And the big box/chain stores like REI, Performance Bike, and general sporting goods stores? Only 13% reported relying on these stores as their primary source of bikes and equipment.
So local bike shops should be doing great, right? Yes and no. We also asked our members if they had purchased bike gear online in the last 12 months and 54% said yes. So, while the local bike shop may still be the primary avenue for buying gear, most Singletracks members still buy at least some of their gear online.
The good news for local bike shop owners is the percentage of mountain bikers who reported shopping online has stayed fairly constant over the past 3 years. It will be interesting to see how or if smart phones will change things as customers start relying on instant price comparison more and more.
Overall, local bike shops seem to be trending upward in terms of mountain bikers’ primary place to buy gear. In 2009, 58% of members preferred to shop locally; by 2011 that percentage increased to 65%. That growth seemed to come at the expense of both the large chain retailers and online retailers alike.
In terms of the factors affecting mountain bikers’ decisions around where to shop, the trends aren’t so clear (partly because we only looked at data for the past 3 calendar years). There was, however, a slight downward trend in the importance of good selection (31% -> 29% -> 27%) and convenience (4% -> 4% -> 2%). In 2011, low prices just barely edged out wide selection in terms of importance, though in 2010 the order was flipped.
So if you’re a local bike shop owner or internet retailer, what to do with this data? Clearly the signals are mixed, though it appears there are opportunities for everyone. My prediction: local bike shops will start acting more like internet retailers while online sellers will try to offer services that are similar to local vendors.
As consumers, we can all do our part to help grow the sport, regardless of where we shop. That’ll result in a bigger pie for everyone – local and virtual alike!