Traditional geographical boundaries meant that was always a regional focus to the sale of bikes and gear. Of course the key brands were available, though always through local agents such as the distributer / wholesaler / importer or a national branch of the bike brand.
Mail order made it possible for enthusiasts in remote continents (i.e. Africa, Asia and Australia) to have some access to speciality gear, there was usually a long wait and premiums for currency exchange.
With the ride of online shopping, sales initially were regional and for successful shops who adapted, they become international. But there were two effects:
Firstly, the products were no longer just ‘niche’ and hard-to-get products, rather they were everyday parts and accessories which were already available ‘locally’. Customers were buying because it was cheaper… not because they couldn’t get it from their local bike shop.
Secondly, brands were now selling to the same buyer, but not via their local importer and bike shop and for many brands it raised questions of warranty and supporting the traditional retail channels.
However, the customer was usually a winner.
The customer has the same item for a lower price and are comfortable buying online so it is also convenient. Of course there are risks such as warranty issues and customer service challenges when dealing with the overseas shop. The end effect is that the bike rider has the same item… and the brand still sold their product.
Geo-Restriction and GeoBlocking for bikes and gear
Mavic was a very early adopter and for years they have been blocking Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles from selling their wheelsets to selected countries overseas. Other brands such as Continental have remained readily available.
Of course for customer who really wanted the Mavic wheels there were a few ways around restrictions such as using a 3rd party service to mask the country of origin and in cases it allowed delivery to an overseas address. Sometimes a bit of juggling the cart (selecting £ and UK delivery, adding the item and then changing currency and location) or simply ignoring on-site notes of restricted delivery… and letting the wheels simply turn up a few weeks later.
For ‘direct to customer’ brands such as the German brand of Canyon bikes and brands which are simply unavailable and unsupported in some countries, mail-forwarding can be used and is a service which is becoming increasing popular in the U.S. for example. A last resort is an international flight to Europe when the cost of flight and expenses is lower than the cost of purchasing locally.
How do retailers GeoBlock?
Wiggle detect a visitors location and when the product isn’t available they suggest that the product is no longer available, rather than not available. A challenge being that the products can be easily found on the wiggle site and only when selecting an unsupported delivery destination are the products suddenly out of stock.
Search Engine Optimisation dictates this approach, it is better to include a product in the inventory and then try and guide a customer to alternative products, rather than to lose them completely. Of course customers who also notice this and over time simply may not visit.
Chain Reaction Cycles likewise have the product available in their directories for SEO purposes, however appear to favour an approach of sending visitors with an incompatible destination to the homepage. This can usually lead to the customer wonder ‘what just happened’ and trying a few times. Within their search database the term “Mavic Ksyrium” with a UK destination and GBP selected shows 25 results while with Australia as a destination and AUD there are only 8 results.
Among the Australia results are a few Mavic wheelsets which are apparently not blocked. Perhaps clearance or hard to sell wheelsets.
Evans Cycles takes a different approach. In the past they haven’t appeared to block brands for sale, though more recently have changed tact. During testing there was also blocking on some Shimano parts which is unusual as Shimano and SRAM virtually never have geo-restrictions, sometimes the big online retailers sell before local bike shops overseas can even get stock.
Customers from ‘incompatible’ delivery destinations will see the complete range and receive no information or notice of restricted availability (with their overseas location and currency selected). First when the customer tries to check-out and pay are they informed that they can’t purchase. How annoying!
While Evans do allows their own system to be circumvented, this process will not be documented. And there are also many other retailer to chose from. From the big ones, with our example of Mavic, Ribble have a single wheelset in their database, without any restrictions for people outside of the UK. Likewise ProBikeKit have no apparent restrictions however are focussed on UK customers and seem to neglect customers outside of the UK when it comes to customer satisfaction.
Hargroves Cycles is also in our database however doesn’t sell outside of the UK….
Actually they do, but unlike their competitors Hargroves don’t allow the destination to be selected by (potential) customers while browsing. Country selection is hidden inside the checkout process and their overseas delivery charges are hefty in comparison. In favour of Hargroves is their extensive range of our example brand ‘Mavic’.
Where does this leave the customer?
Some brands block some online shops from selling to customers in some countries. It depends how determined the customer is, where there is a will, there is a way. The inconsistency by many brands who try to block will leave loopholes. When online retailers in England wont sell, what about Northern Ireland… or a German retailer?
For brands there are also consequences. Some customers who experience these road blocks may return to local bike shops or local online bike store. Some brands require their products to be sold in-store, even if you are in South Africa for example, South African online retailers are not allowed to sell.
But some customers will simply walk away and turn to other brands, brands which are comparable but which they can purchase through a channel which they prefer, and for price they feel competitive.