You’re in the market for a new bike, so are you going to purchase it from one of the many retailers online?
Or are you going to venture into your community and purchase it from a local brick-and-mortar shop?
There are many advantages to purchasing a bike either online or locally, which is why cyclists have a tough time choosing which direction to go.
If you decide to shop online, you essentially have an unlimited selection, but you can’t test out the bike. If you shop local, you can test ride the bike, but you’re limited on inventory and more locked into a price.
Sometimes, cyclists always aren’t sure what’s the best way to purchase a new bike. So, I’m going to break down the pros and cons for both shopping options in order to help you make a decision that’s best for you.
Why Buy Bikes Online?
Shopping for a bike online comes with many advantages, especially when it comes to selection and price.
You'll Have Access to Large Selections
Tee up a search for online bike retailers and you’ll see a bevy of options to choose from. Shopping online for a bike gives you access to a near-unlimited inventory.
You just need to find the online shop that 1) carries the bike brand you want to purchase and 2) has competitive pricing and customer service.
You essentially have three tiers of online bike shops :
- Bike-specific shops. Think sites like CompetitiveCyclist.com, BikesOnline.com, BikesDirect.com, and Wiggle.com. These sites were solely built for selling a variety of bike brands. If you’re open to multiple brands, these types of shops are best because they feature such a large inventory.
- Direct from manufacturer. In the past few years, several new bike startups have launched to sell their bikes directly from their website. This category includes companies like Canyon, Trek, Felt Bicycles, Guardian Bikes, and Priority Bicycles. Of course, these sites are limited to just one brand, but there are a handful of these companies online that you can explore and see if it’s a good fit for you.
- Big box stores. I’m including Amazon in this category, along with Walmart, REI and Dick’s Sporting Goods. You can buy bikes from all of these places just as you would electronics or clothing. Big box stores may have the best overall prices, but quality control of their inventory could be an issue.
You Often Can Get Lower Prices
When directly compared to buying locally, there’s a high chance purchasing a bike online comes with a lower price. That’s the case for a couple of reasons.
If you’re a bike retailer who solely operates online, you don’t have to worry about the upkeep of a brick and mortar shop. You just need to keep your website running and have a solid understanding of your supply chain. Those cheaper costs are passed down to the consumer.
Online retailers are playing the volume game.
They can afford to sell their inventory of bikes at lower margins because they anticipate selling a higher volume of them. That strategy is significantly different from a small local store, which likely can’t handle a similar sales volume.
To achieve that volume, these retailers often entice new customers with additional discounts for signing up for a newsletter, for instance. They also have better sales for things like Black Friday as they try to close out older inventory for the year.
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Why Buy from Your Local Bike Shop?
Many of us likely grew up going to a local shop to purchase their first bike. But there’s more than just nostalgia as a reason to continue shopping local.
You Can View the Bike Physically
The biggest advantage to shopping locally is the biggest disadvantage for shopping online : You can actually see, touch, and test ride the bicycle you’re most interested in purchasing.
This is a huge advantage because there’s always a chance a bike you purchase online shows up on your porch and it’s nothing like you thought it would be, which means you need to go through a challenging return process.
Many local bike shops today set up a nice test ride area. If the shop has a large mountain bike inventory, for example, they may have a dirt trail nearby where you can take the bike out for a spin. Others might be limited to just a parking lot.
If you find a bike you’re interested in at your local bike shop, you have a higher chance of buyer satisfaction and a lower chance of returning it if you can physically see the bike in the first place.
You Can Get the Bike Immediately
While all local bike shops have a tighter inventory than online retailers, if you get lucky and find the bike of your dreams, you can purchase it and take it home immediately.
There’s no waiting a week or two for UPS to deliver it from a warehouse to your front porch.
You also don’t have to worry about :
- Being home for your delivery and signing for a package.
- Additional import duties if your bike is from overseas. If you purchased the bike from a local shop, those taxes are already baked into the price.
You'll Get Top Notch After Sales Service
One of the biggest advantages to purchasing a bike from a local bike shop is the customer service that comes with it, especially after the transaction.
Many bike shops offer free service for minor maintenance and repair items if you bought a bike from their shop. This typically includes indexing your gears and basic checks. For more serious issues, you may get a discount as a loyal customer.
Some even provide a basic bike fit session to make sure you buy the right size and you’re set up properly on the bike.
Since local shops have relationships with bike manufacturers, you may have an easier time dealing with warranty issues if you run into any issues with your new bike.
You're Supporting Local Businesses
Local businesses are the heart and soul of our communities, which is why it’s important to support these shops.
Bike shops are making anywhere between 20% and 50% margins on bikes they sell, so purchasing a higher-end mountain bike from your local shop, for example, certainly goes a long way for the business and the business’ employees, who likely live in your community.
While buying online comes with cheaper prices and a larger selection, there’s no personal touch that can replace what you experience when buying from a local bike store.