How To Shop For A New Bike: Online Vs. In-store

How to shop in today’s bicycle marketplace: online or at the bike shop.

Written by:

You spotted it on the bike parked next to you on the rack at work. Or maybe you saw it while in the bike lane, or online, or in the pages of Momentum Mag. It’s an accessory that would be a perfect upgrade for your daily ride. But where do you buy it?

Accessories and bikes for everyday riding are grabbing the attention and imaginations of riders everywhere. With the growth of online retail and direct sales from brands, bike shops are dealing with customers who have greater product knowledge and the tools to quickly compare prices.

When searching for your next bike or accessory upgrades where should you go? What are the pros (and the cons) of shopping online versus in a local bike shop?

AT THE BIKE SHOP

Bike shops are home to experts in bicycles, parts, and repairs. Shop owners and their staff proudly wear their “bike nerd” statuses. Their experience and insight into finding the right style or size can be invaluable.

In a shop you can compare and try different models, getting a firsthand feel for that upright bike or secure new lock. Shop employees can answer your questions and often help by pointing out the differences between two similar products. Many shops also offer free tune-ups and adjustments while your bike parts settle in.

However, finding a shop that specializes in supporting everyday people that ride bikes for transportation can be a challenge. Many shops focus on sports and recreation with a very limited number of lifestyle products, or none at all. Finding a local shop that fits your needs can require traveling long distances or be completely out of reach.

Good shops are places where you feel comfortable shopping and trust the sales and repair staff to taking care of your needs.

ONLINE SHOPPING

The online marketplace is dominated by one thing: pricing. Whether buying directly from a company or through an online shop, cutting out the middlemen makes it possible to find lower prices.

Shopping online is also becoming more reliable as retailers provide more information, photos, and even videos about products. Online reviews can help take some of the guesswork out of deciding on the right product if you trust the sources.

While you may find savings initially when buying online, when it comes to returns the time and cost of shipping a product back can start to offset the initial bonus. Cross-border shopping can also include additional duties and fees and is another hurdle for customer service.

Shopping online can help you in finding products not stocked in local shops while saving you money if returns or warranty issues  don’t arise.

ONLINE PROS & CONS

+ PROS

  • Lower prices
  • Wider selection
  • Detailed reviews
  • No travel needed

– CONS

  • Returns and problems can by costly
  • More guesswork in sizing
  • Unreliable customer service
  • Duties and taxes when cross-border shopping
  • Driving down prices in brick and mortar stores and potentially threatening the success of local businesses

IN-STORE PROS & CONS

+ PROS

  • Face-to-face interaction
  • Get a firsthand feel for products
  • Chance to compare products directly
  • Service and warranty
  • You can feel good for supporting a local business

– CONS

  • Many shops have a lack of expertise in transportation cycling
  • Limited stock
  • Inconvenient locations
  • Difficult staff
  • Cluttered shops and unfriendly retail environments

4 Comments

  • Ramon

    I think this is a great article in light of some recent stats about bike sales. My main suggestion, though, would be to ask the same questions of both online and local bike shops. For example, if you’re going to point out that bike shop employees typically don’t know too much about transportation bicycling, then you should note that there is almost zero bike education of any type possible from an online bicycle vendor.

    Additionally, you should propose the option of fully educating one’s self online so that you know what you want and then go to a local bike shop loaded with info. I did this when looking for touring bikes. I made a simple spreadsheet of all the biggest touring bike manufacturers, followed sizing standards, and evaluated the touring bike variables (gear range, chain-stay length, brake types, spoke count, stock tires, extra, etc.). I found the best bike for me per the MSRP.

    I then went out hunting for an LBS that sold that manufacturer’s bikes because an LBS is always willing to order a bike for you and put it together for a small fee. This is a great thing for an LBS because it’s a guaranteed sale without having to take the risk of buying the bike, storing it, and all the staff time spend on attempting to sell the bike.

    Of course, your average transportation bicyclist won’t need to do an in depth spreadsheet. They just need to know what type of frame they want, what type of shifters, and the cost of throwing on some fenders and a rack if they’re not included with the bike. If you find a Felt bike you want, go to a Felt dealer and say, “I want this bike in this color. I have an X inseam. How much will it cost to have it ordered and assembled?”

    It doesn’t have to be “LBS vs. Online Dealer”, but “How can I use online information to choose a bike and then negotiate a discount down from MSRP with a local bike shop?”

  • Michael McGettigan

    Greetings– please don’t ask us to price match. Would you like it if your boss at work asked you to “price-match” the salary of someone in Taiwan or Texas? All shops have expenses, and the betters shops tend to pay higher wages and put more into their staff, the stock, and the local cycling community. If we cut prices to the bone to match some guy with a warehouse, we will have a tough time delivering quality service. Also, even at our crabbiest, we are way more entertaining and accurate than 99.9% of the online shops, many of which are hugely cut and pasted together from other peoples’ cycling knowledge. Price matching is at bottom, sort of rude and takes advantage of the very openness and friendliness that makes bike shops different from gigantic chains. Support a less boring world and support your local shops of all kinds. mcget–trophy bikes philly

  • Rachael

    Many shops will match the price of an online competitor – provided the item is the same make, model and colour and is being shipped from the same country. It’s worth asking the next time you’re in your local bike shop as this combines great bike shop service and low internet prices!

    • RadicalRye

      Some shops will price match, but the sad thing is it’s because they can’t afford to lose the sale. Price matching in most cases means the dealer ends up selling the item at their cost or even lose money in some cases. Online retailers have low overhead and can afford to sell things dirt cheap because they buy insane mass quantities or in some cases the good are grey market, meaning they aren’t coming through proper channels.

      I would work with the shop and see what they are comfortable offering if you ask for a small discount. Most shops these days can’t afford it and what happens when they close? You no longer have a local spot to get your bike fixed or a reliable source of info.

2015 Momentum Mag Survey

Complete the Momentum Mag 2015 Reader Survey and you could win a bike!

Take Survey