I was reading a 2012 article on Grey Market imports – which was defined in the article as anything purchased overseas and not through the ‘proper’ local channels. The grey market is actually more than this, but that is a conversation for another time.
The author of the article quotes a US bike shop owner (with names and details removed) and the following caught my eye.
When one buys from these companies they are: a) putting money in the pockets of somebody unknown, b) hurting the local economy, c) getting products with no warranty whatsoever, d) dealing with poor customer service after the sale – try to return something to them e) Could be in violation of U.S. Custom’s import tariffs
Briefly addressing a) and b), if a customer buys a Shimano or SRAM item locally, it shouldn’t be forgotten that in most cases the item has been manufactured overseas and the chances are that the brand is overseas (i.e. the Headquarters are not in the same country unless you are from Japan or America). Point taking, adding in the local importers and retailers gets more money moving in the local economy when buying locally. But the fact is that if you really wanted help the local economy you would only buy locally produced and manufactured items. With food and some consumables this is possible but the reality is that bike and cycling gear manufacture is usually cheaper in Asia, all of the big brands manufacture there and it means that ultimately there is a flow of money out of the country.
In perspective, the comments are dramatic and about creating guilt among customers who wonder why some items cost a fraction of the price overseas and their local bike shop isn’t doing anything to provide enough advantages to purchase from them.
No warranty online… really?
Sometimes warranty replacements are easier online – from the comfort of home you send in a photo and provide details. A few days later a courier comes and picks up the item and a new item is delivered. It can be that simple, but of course it can be a real pain.
The pain can involve packing and taking time to post, having to cover postage costs yourself and then waiting. Sometimes the customer service is poor. But generally as a customer you have rights and the retailer (from whom you purchased) should resolve any issues. And generally they do, sometimes better than bike shops.
Have you have made too many trips to the bike shop? “Come back on Tuesday”, so you make the trip to the shop and return on Tuesday to discover that they have forgotten you, and forgotten to call. Your chances of having a warranty replacement are that same as online. With online orders you have to wait, but instore you may have to wait, sometimes the shop sends it to the distributer who then needs to send it to the brand and that can take months. With an online purchase it is common for online shops to ‘cut their losses’ and make it easy for a customer by quickly replacing (and resolving the warranty replacement with the brand later) or in some cases to suggest the customer keep the part and a new one will be sent.
Customer service can be poor online, but the big online shops such as Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles are out their to win and retain customers. Their customer service has been boosted dramatically in recent years and all of the serious online bike shops know how important this is to their business.
There are rogue online bike shops out there, probably plenty so there is safety in sticking with the big stores (which in turn makes it tough for new and honest business). Comparing to local bike shops, are they all honest? Do they all look after you after the sale? Some bike shops don’t even look after you the moment you walk in the door.
I can tally some great experiences in local bike shops, but also some shocking experiences and in the face of growing online competition its a wonder that some bike shops believe that they can survive with their poor customer service and shonky service.
There are good and bad retailers online and offline. As a customer you shouldn’t feel pressured to buy from a local bike shop who isn’t looking after you, guilt-tripped because you are killing the economy. But the local bike shops can lift their game and become a better option for you… because their service is better and they look after you. As a customer take time to know the risks of buying online, such as not being able to try before you buy, but if you are buying from a reputable online retailer, the chances are that warranty and customer service is just as good as in store.
photo © Vanessa Gutierrez