Yelp Reviews Reveal 8 Ways Bike Shops Fail Customers

Illustration by Aaron Mann

Online reviews are the great equalizer in today’s market, giving the consumer a powerful voice and an informed choice. Even poorly delivered, incomprehensible rants–from strangers, no less–are carefully weighed against the longer list of positive reviews. Four of 48 people give a bad review, and all of the sudden that business moves to the back burner because… well, what if you’re the next unsuspecting, unlucky one?

For better or worse, the local bike shop (LBS) appreciates the influence of an online review, as you often see their owners on review sites like Yelp following up with concerns, supporting reviewers, and making amends when things have gone wrong. Yet what, if anything, does a negative review tell us about an LBS? Well, one review doesn’t amount to much, but take hundreds of bad experiences, and you begin to see what really grinds customer’s gears.

So, that’s what I did.

After reviewing reviews reporting a less than desirable experience, I observed repeat offenses across the board, and was able to sort common complaints into categories that may help a bike shop owner and their staff understand where mistakes are being duplicated.

In order to condense the largest amount of negative bike shop ratings, I searched “bike shop” in several randomly-picked U.S. cities using the search field. After sorting each city’s bike shop list by “Most Reviewed,” I randomly selected individual bike shops sorted by “Lowest Rated.” Then, I dove deep into a rabbit hole, the likes of which no Alice in Wonderland has ever seen.

What emerged (in no specific order) was eight definitive areas where bike shops fail their customers. All quotes are from actual Yelp reviews and, for the sake of clarity and succinctness, most are paraphrased and grammatically corrected.

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1. Lack of Communication

“When he dropped it off, the shop rep said it would be $50. We went to pick it up and were charged $115. When asked about the difference, we were told the technician must’ve found something wrong, but couldn’t tell us what. Matt thought someone should’ve called if there was a problem that resulted in a price change, but the guy shrugged, saying, ‘Sometimes they call, sometimes they don’t.'”

Even Sid, my deceptively-evil auto mechanic, knows never to go ahead with a “surprise” repair without checking with the me first. Sure, waiting on a return phone call and a pontential parts order may delay the job, but if more work is needed than what was discussed, resulting in an up charge, the shop should consult the customer first.

“I purchased an old bike and asked for an overhaul. ‘No problem,’ they said, ‘have it ready in two days.’ Went to pick it up and they said they were slammed and didn’t get to it. A week after that and it was not done. Another 3 weeks after that and it was not done. Another week goes by and it’s not done. Having not received one phone call, I finally just went in and asked for the bike.”

There’s only one thing more disheartening than dropping off your bike for maintenance and missing out on a weekend of riding: dropping off your bike for maintenance and missing three weekends of riding (with no end in sight!). Miscommunication is frustrating enough, but no communication is inexcusable. If the shop can’t meet the turnover time discussed initially, the customer needs to be contacted. We understand you’re busy, but what we don’t understand is why you don’t call. 

Illustration by Aaron Mann

2. Bike Shop Snobbery

“…but one of the employees was suuuuper condescending. First off, he joked that the repair was necessary because I didn’t know what I was doing when I installed the crank?”

Among many crimes for which shop snobs are guilty, blaming is one of the highest. We bikers are sensitive beasts. If the cranks need to be fixed because some newb didn’t know what a preload cap was, try something like, “Looks like you might have installed them incorrectly,” or better yet, “Looks like they were incorrectly installed.” You know, something a little more passive.

“When I asked if they sold used bikes, they actually laughed at me.”

Bike shop snob, no matter how obvious the answer is to you doesn’t mean everyone should know it and, no matter how clapped-out the client’s bike is, don’t shame them for it.  

Leah Benson of Glady’s Bikes, Portland, OR: Definitely NOT a snob.

3. First Impressions

“I was showing her the bike and no one was helping us. When she sat on the bike some lady rushes over and was really belittling us, telling us how she is not allowed to sit on the bike because it’s a liability, blah blah blah. Then, she showed us the bike, quickly pointing out, ‘This is our cheapest bike.’ Oh, thanks, the bike I am buying for my fiance.  She continued, ‘bottom of the line, low-grade components…’ Well this bike is not going to be raced, so what’s the big deal.”

The bike shop rep is not just making a first impression between themselves and the customer, but between the customer and the entire shop. Sure, shoppers may tolerate an attitude once in a while, but, as the next item on the list shows, sometimes it’s hard enough to get any help. Never mind what effects the spoken word may have on forming an impression, we humans are hardwired to make judgments literally in the blink of an eye.

Illustration by Aaron Mann

4. Failure to Connect

“It’s about 11 am on a Tuesday, and employees out-number customers. I pass 3 workers, each in conversation with fellow patrons. I walk to the helmets, passing an employee straightening clothes. She looks up and then back to her task. I begin looking at the helmets, giving every indication I had questions. No one comes over to assist me. I carry a helmet (a sure sign that I intend to make a purchase), pass that same employee who, again, did not acknowledge me, and walk to the gloves. Holding the helmet in one hand and messing with gloves in the other, two more employees pass me. Neither greets me or asks if I need help. At that point I’d been there around 10 minutes and was ignored by at least 3 employees. I left the gloves, put the helmet back, AND LEFT.”

In retail sales, it’s difficult to balance being helpful and coming off pushy, but to let a customer wander the shop without ever making a single connection is less than effective. Numerous reviewers retell the tale of being ignored, not feeling welcome, or even feeling like they’ve somehow frightened staff away. Interestingly, most reviewers have no problem being underserved as long as they receive a quick “Hello.” One helmet and a pair of gloves is no big sale, but good customer service can turn someone into a life-long customer.

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