Thursday, April 19, 2018

Getting More Than You Bargained For

Direct to consumer sounds great, but what you assume in responsibilities is not well communicated
The changing economy. It's the talk of the town and has a lot of people wringing their hands. We are no strangers to these changes in the bicycle industry. This has been happening for a decade now and things are not going to switch back to the way we used to do things. That said, a lot of what has already happened is not very well understood by the common person. When you carve out the traditional supply chain and short circuit the old economy by going direct to consumer, there are responsibilities that were once the realm of distributors and retailers that now fall into the end user's lap.

Again- these are not predictions of a future which consumers face. No- it is current reality. Or, at least it is if you engage in direct to consumer economic transactions. The following is just a sampling of what I have observed over the past ten years of being in the bicycle retail business arena as a mechanic.
  • Warranties are the responsibility of the end user. It used to be that warranty issues were facilitated by dealers, but that ain't so if you buy direct. The hidden implications of this are that unless you are savvy at mechanics and understand technologies, you'll not only have to cover shipping defective items, but pay someone to remove and install parts as well.  
  • Tune-ups, adjustments, and fitting issues are the responsibility of the end user. Again- if you don't have the time, skills, or both- those things will have to be paid for. Many times shops will not charge you for these things, or give you significant discounts, if you purchase from them.
  • Buying the wrong bike: Sizing issues? Got the wrong bike for your application? Maybe you bought a bike and six months later you decide that it isn't for you and you want to go a different direction? Too bad. You're stuck with the original purchase. Or, you have the hassle of shipping an item back. Don't forget your time and energy dealing with all of that. Generally speaking, a good local shop will work with you on issues like these so you don't have to. 
  • Bought the wrong parts: This happens A LOT! If I, as a mechanic, order the wrong part, it's on the shop. If you, as a consumer do that- too bad. That's your issue to deal with. Hopefully you don't value your time and money, because if you did........ Well, you get the picture. 
  • Bought direct to consumer bike- got the last decade's geometry, design, and tech: This is the hidden fault with many direct to consumer bicycles. Buyers of such rigs will get their dander up big time when you say that these bikes "aren't as good as LBS bikes". They generally don't understand that the geometry is wonky, hidden parts that generally are not considered are sub-par, and the technology, especially in rear suspension bikes, is archaic. But as long as they are  happy....... That said, there is always a reason those bikes cost less. That reason is- many times- the aforementioned things.
A warning found on the Scott Sports site
But these are not the only minefields consumers are now saddled with dealing with. Fake sites or low quality components masquerading as "real" brands are popping up all over. That Specialized, Pinarello, or Scott bike you got for "a really great deal" on-line may very well be a fake, and at best, an under performing product. At worst these bikes and components can be downright dangerous.

Even carbon components direct from Chinese manufacturers can be dodgy and stories of successful purchases are balanced by just as many failures if you invest the time to research out the myriad threads on-line about such things.

There is a great series of articles on fakes and how consumers and brands are having to deal with this on the industry trade site called "bikebiz". You can read the articles here. The issue is so massive it took 20 articles to cover! So, be ready for a long sit if you should jump over there to read it all. The point being- this has been going on for quite sometime, and if consumers continue to bypass traditional forms of retail, they can expect to have to navigate some pretty murky seas with almost no recourse should things go pear-shaped.

While traditional retail is certainly dead, I do not expect that your "traditional" bike shop will completely go away either. The shops will eventually morph into a new form, consumers will still patronize bike shops in their new form, and on-line retail? I think that is destined to change as well. One thing is for certain- the only constant is change!


Steve said...

I got some of this first hand when I ordered a Diamondback Haanjo a few years ago. The hydraulic brake line was way too long so I called up tech support for some help. I got a particularly BS explanation of why this had happened and no help getting the special road barb for the line or any offer of compensation for my time in the shorten/bleed/part sourcing process.
Kinda reminded me of what I went through as a shop manager in dealing with manufacturers!
Thanks for making consumers aware of this and other issues GT.

youcancallmeAl said...

Judging by the number of folks I see on the wrong LBS bike for their size, ability and riding style, I wouldn't be too concerned about #3.

Erin said...

I agree with Al. One of our LBS sells what is on the floor regardless of whether it fits or is what the customer needs. I didn't know this when buying my wife an MTB years ago but now that I have figured it out I will not shop there any longer. There is another LBS that does look out for the customer and is great to work with, they get plenty of my $$$ even when I can find things cheaper online. Lumping all LBSs into the same category does not fairly reward the good ones or drive the bad ones out of business.

Guitar Ted said...

@youcancallmeAl @Erin- While my post was NOT concerned with defending bad LBS' (not to mention bad on-line retailers- there are those as well), I will add that not all folks on wrong sized bikes/wrong bikes are on them because they were foisted upon them by unwitting or "evil" folks at some LBS. Consider that some people flat out insist on equipment that most knowledgeable bike folk would not advise for them. Sure- LBS could refuse to sell, but then someone is going to get that sale, so.....

In a world where the "self-taught expert" people exist, this can and does happen. It isn't the fault of the LBS when someone insists on buying the wrong sized bike, the wrong bike for their purpose, or what have you. (Our shop makes these people sign a waiver) I see this a lot in the retail world. I work on a lot of bikes that people bought willingly against advice from shop people. So, to borrow a phrase from Erin: "Lumping all LBSs into the same category does not fairly reward the good ones.....", especially when it comes to observations like the one youcancallmeAl is making here. You may not know the whole story behind the transaction.