Are you a scumbag if you buy online?

The worldwide cycling industry would like you to believe this. But the worldwide cycling industry also facilitates online shopping, the online bike shops have to get their bikes and gear from somewhere and you can’t believe that a brand doesn’t know who is selling their genuine bikes or parts and accessories.

You are a scumbag if you go into a bike shop to look at gear, to try it and to take time from the staff when you intend to buy the same thing online. This is known as Showrooming and is tackled in the online BBC article: The peril of ‘showrooming’.

Your not a scumbag if you go into a shop and browse, or if you are genuinely looking to purchase but don’t find what you want.

It is a fine line, but the nature of retail, even before the internet was that customers compared anyway and want the best deal. And good staff will look after you.

The hard to devour line is “traditional bike shops will disappear.” Cyclists will be left with nowhere to service their bikes (and are probably not patriots if they are buying from overseas shops). Why is it the consumers obligation to pay a premium for the benefit of somehow shifting supply and demand for an apparent indirect long term benefit?

It is supply and demand, and it demands brands, wholesalers and retailers to change. Don’t showroom – but likewise, if you find the most competive price for a bike or cycling gear online, do you homework, know the pro’s and con’s, but don’t be ‘guilt tripped’.

Saving Tax or VAT when buying online

Upfront, if you are eligible to pay tax, there is no magic way  to escape it. You may however be exempt from Tax…

The world’s biggest online bike stores are in the UK, the good news is that they have very competitive pricing and may (or may not) have the cheapest prices.

When you visit a bike online bike shop, the chances are, they will detect your location (and default currency) and provide you with the correct price. If they don’t, usually at the top right there is an option to change delivery destination and price.

In the UK their tax on products and services is VAT (Value Added Tax) and calculated at 20%. If you are in the UK, this is included in the display price and you pay it automatically. If you are in the European Union, the big shops such as Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles will automatically calculate the applicable (local) taxes – so you get your product and there is no additional taxes and there is no addition customs duty. If purchasing from a smaller online shop, you need to ensure that they have removed VAT, if the applicable taxes are not added in the sale price, you may be required to pay the local tax and customs duty when the package is delivered.

For non-EU countries, the display price on the big online stores, in your local currency and to your country will have the 20% VAT removed. When ‘importing’ however, you may be liable for local tax and customs duty. The values will vary from country to country, while some may have a threshold which allow imports without tax and or customs duty for products under a certain value. You need to check your local customs details.

Take note of returns, if you do return a product you may then require an exemption to return any payment made.

Can you Trust Online Retailer Reviews?

Just like your traditional local bike shop, growing a loyal customer following is an important part of business. I would argue that there is less customer loyalty with online shops compared with local bike shops. Being predominently price orientated and without that same recommendations, support, follow-up and maintenance, an online shop has a more limited role and more limited scope to build a following.

Despite less loyalty, when the price and time is right, it is significantly cheaper for online shops to sell to an existing customer rather than acquiring a new one.

Wiggle have been promoting their Gold customer loyalty plan and telling me that I have until the end of this month to spend $150 to remain in their program. So I should spend $150 for the sake of it?

Lets move along to online retailer social communication – specifically blogs and whether you can trust them.

So why wouldn’t you trust them – well of course because the online retailers want to sell and for this reason if they are publishing a review, they would hardly want to dissuade customers from buying. And that is where credibility walks out the door, as they are not independent media, how can they be impartial? (Another story is how independent magazines and website tend to publish reviews at exactly the same time that the same brand has advertising).

Searching the Wiggle blog for keyword “poor” and “bad” shows no results with articles or product reviews with these terms in the context of the products quality or attributes.

Chain Reaction Cycles have the CRC Hub with articles and videos, very much focussed on their products and events and news related to inventory.  They have created a more comprehensive community integrating video, blogs and social sharing tools, facebook, twitter and google+. Their useless search likewise delivers no results which suggest any criticism of any of the featured products.

We have previous discussed customer reviews and the tendency for bad reviews to disappear, or never to appear. Amazon have a different approach. By virtue of their size they happily allow negative customer reviews as they know that the customer will continue looking on their online shop for alternative products rather than leave.

In the cycling world, the product pool is smaller and even the big retailers can’t afford to annoy their suppliers and brands too much. But as a customer, yes, you can read a retailers reviews and also customer reviews and perhaps even get useful information. But be aware that there is a vested interest so time spend researching independently is worthwhile.


Can you trust Customer reviews – ProBikeKit Case Study

ProBikeKit is an established online retailer from Cumbria in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1998 it became part of The Hut group, a unite that owns and operates a number of online brands and boasts a yearly growth rate of 15%. You can read more on the ownership in The Telegraph article on The Hut acquisition of ProBikeKit.

As a consumer it can be difficult to judge an online bike shop. Are the reliable and trustworthy. Are they good value and will you be looked after as a valued customer?

On Smart Cyclists, the shops included for comparison are all establish and of good reputation although this doesn’t mean all customers will have a good shopping experience all of the time.

By way of example, the online reputation of ProBikeKit has been briefly researched with interesting results.

Usually when searching using Google, ProBikeKit will have an advertisement, and it is interesting to note the 4.2 / 5 star ranking. What is the advertiser ranking? Google uses their party review websites, their Google Trusted Store program, info from an independent ratings company (StellaService – for the USA only) and ratings from google customer surveys to produce the advertiser ranking. Advertisers can choose whether or not this is displayed.

ProBikeKit Product Review

What is interesting is that on the first page of results, there is a 3/10 rating based on 56 reviews from a service called Reseller Ratings. That doesn’t look good at all. The quoted  first review begins with “US Customers Beware!!!!” [link]

probikeKit Independent Review

Continuing there are reviews from a more familiar name, Trustpilot. They split between the UK and the USA and it is interesting to note that while UK customers (with 1,137 reviews) rank the shop 9.2 from 10, the US (or international) customers with 221 review rank the retailer at only 7.2 from 10.

Probikekit trustpilot review

ProBikeKit Own Review

Basic analysis suggests that the UK customers are happier and for overseas (or US) customers, there are more problems. This is useful info although it doesn’t mean that one in four customers are disappointed, the ranking calculates 4/5 and 3/5 ratings.

Clicking through to the reviews is enlighting and the most recent reviews are eye opening.

1/5 – Make sure they have the product they are trying to sell you before you purchase!

1/5 – Terrible Customer Service, Fraudulent Business Activities, Avoid.

2/5 – Look Elsewhere

2/5 – “Free shipping” is a farce. Disappointed.

Ouch. Four recent negative reviews before the first positive one. Lets look at the UK website for a bit of a balance.

5/5 – Quick service for reasonably priced products

1/5 – Didn’t work

5/5 – Good, speedy service

5/5 – Excellent service and brilliant communication in relation to delivery

The UK reviews are also more recent and appear to confirm that UK customers are getting better service.

Lets have a look at other sources of reviews. A service called gives ProBikeKit a 97% ranking and clicking through presents a slighty more comprehensive and interative format with the service and products split. The 92% is inline with the UK Trustpilot 9.2/10 ranking. The time period selection is a plus – but looking through the reviews shows that the last review was in June,  before that it was March and then 75 reviews in February this year. This is unusual, perhaps ProBikeKit were recommending that customer post reviews on the service and then stopped.

ProBikeKit Customer Review


Beyond standard search results for “probikekit” – looking specifically for review sites suggests that is the most popular. It however has a single (positive review). The sample size is too small and can be ignored.

ProBikeKit Customer Review


The power of customer reviews

For small businesses, a negative review can be a disaster – for big business it is a game of numbers and a retailer can attempt to manipulate and influence…. or just do good business and value every customer.

Customers threaten business with bad review – usually after disappointment. In the US where suing people appears to be a way of life, companies have attempted to sue customers for negative review. Techdirt have an interesting example of this: Online Retailer Says If You Give It A Negative Review It Can Fine You $3,500.

Forums also are useful for judging the reputation of a retailer though take time to review the as the content is not standardised.

However customer reviews can be polarised, not necessarily presenting a balance, rather just the extremes. That said, in most cases the inpendent review can provide enough information to understand whether the retailer keeps customers such as yourself happy.

Be aware that when there are no reviews for a shop that it can mean that the retailer is very new, but it can mean they are very small and not doing much business or are ‘too new’ and more care should be taken to review their creditials. Here are some basic tips: When the price of that new bike too good to be true?

How to tell if the online bike shop is genuine

In a physical bike store, you walk in and receive your goods in return for payment. With an online store however you pay and wait which creates an element of risk.

Here are a few tips to tell whether or not a bike shops is genuine:

• Physical address – If there is a post office box or the shop is based in an ‘exotic’ country, take care. With a physical stree address you can check on google maps and google street view and see if the building exists.

• Phone Number – A genuine business without a phone number is unusual. If they don’t have one you can start asking ‘why’?

• Cross Check the Address – Google to the recue, see if the address is listed in google. Many countries have online telephone directories with business listings and the retailer should be listed in a number of these.

• Shop Reputation – The effective way to see if an online bike shop is questionable is to search for the shop name with additional keywords such as “bad”, “problems” or “scam”. For example:
“ABC Bikes” +problems

While any shop will invariably also have bad customers, you will be able to judge how serious the problems are, often you will see search results with cycling forums and blogs and comments

Use  WOT (Web Of Trust) browser plugin which relies on community aggregation to rate good sites and suspicious sites. This can also highlight any other website which you visit which has been flagged. WAT is still in its early days so not foolproof however is growing in popularity. Available from:

• Reliable Payment – Avoid “Western Union” payment and shy away from bank transfers unless you know and have used the online retailer. Instead, credit card and paypal have more reliable security and customer protection. Make sure payment is secure -the padlock symbol should appear and the web address start with https:// (and not http:// without the ‘s’).

There are more tell-tale signs, if a bike shop fails any of these criteria, then be cautious.

Three reasons why your Local Bike Shop is better than the Online Shop

Lets start with acknowledging that there are plenty of bad bike shops – we are not talking about them. We are talking about the good bike shops and why they are better than online shops. In the last article we looked at three reasons why your local bike shop can’t compete with online bike shops. Lets turn the tables and see what your Local Bike Shop can do better.

Professional Advice: while the internet is a wealth of knowledge, the staff at your local bike shop get their hands dirty and should be on the top of their game mechanically as well as steer you in the right direction when you are buying a new bike. The best shops put your interest first – before a quick sale.

Immediate Satisfaction: Most bike shops sell the everyday items, inner tubes, tires and the accessories and parts to keep you on the road. No waiting, you are ready to go straight away.

Customer Service: This is underrated when buying online, until things go wrong. The big online stores work hard to improve this part of their business but the fact is, if you have a good bike shop and walk in the door with a problem, part of their business is to look after you and your servicing, repair and warranty issues.

Three reasons why your Local Bike Shop can’t compete with Online

For established bricks and mortar bike shops, the internet boom has come as a shock, many were not prepared, didn’t understand and wouldn’t adapt to the changing market.

Yes, PRICE is the obvious one. Chain Reaction Cycles, the worlds’ biggest online bike shop and Wiggle (a close second) don’t have the same overheads and the big ones use their bulk buying power to get their price down.

Product RANGE is hard to compete with. Local bike shops are locked into specific brands and it simply isn’t economical to stock everything so availability is an added factor. And of course, if one online shop doesn’t stock the item you are after, or it is out of stock, the next online bike shop is just a few clicks aware, not miles away.

The next reason is SPEED. Obviously you get immediate satisfaction visiting your local bike shop and buying something directly from the shop floor – but what if they don’t have it. The speed it usually takes for the distributer to deliver to the bike shop, then adding in your extra travel time makes it inconvenient.

Next up, three reasons why your local bike shop is better than the online shop.


When the price of that new bike too good to be true?

Imagine saving $2000 off brand new bike that is every other bike shop sells for $5000. What about a lovely Italian Pinarello or a firey Scott road bike, instead of 8K, you have spotted it online for 3.5K, less than half of the going price.

Though you have never heard of the online shop before, it looks professional and they have all of the top brands… all at heavily discounted prices. Lets have a closer look.

Have you ever seen a bike shop (online or physical) with such a wide range, brands which are usally never sold side by side in the same bike shop? Colnago’s next to Pinarello’s. Scotts next to Specialized and BMC’s.

This is one of the first signs to slow down because it is probably too good to be true.

The next tell-tale sign is that payment with Western Union is preferred – or a bank transfer.

Scammers can set up multiple online shops, each with a different design but all with unrealistic prices on brand name bikes and cycling gear to bait unsuspecting bargin hunters. If they can lure you in and convince you to pay then you have lost. As opposed to credit card or paypal payments which have an element of security and customer protection, Western Union and bank transfers don’t have these safety mechanisms making it impossible or extremely unlikely of ever getting your money back.

Yes, it can be hard to tell, the scam sites rip content and images from genuine shop but two easy steps can help get clarity. The first is google and searching for different combinations with the bike shop name and Web Address (URL) to see if customers have shared experiences or if there is any 3rd party information about them.

The second is to ask about the reputation of the online bike shop in forums. If no one has ever heard of the shop, be cautious. If you discover reports of scams and lost money, then avoid.

Sticking with the big name bike shops provides security but does make it tough for the new and smaller bike shops to compete for your business – however the chances are that even the new online bike shops and the small online bike shops have more realistic pricing and accept common and secure payment methods.

One in a while you will spot fantastic deals on bikes or parts, but if they are too good to be true, take care to protect yourself.

Getting the right size bikes, gear and clothing online

There are some sure-fire ways of getting the right sized bike if you want to purchase online, but they require effort, cost and / or experience. Hardly anyone regrets getting a professional bike fit, the data can set you up for much of your life and ensure that you get the size and geometry that best suits.

Alternatively you can test the same model and sized bike if you have friends who coincidently have one and are willing. It is incredibly bad form to go to a bike shop with the intention to buy online.

Finally if you are a very experienced cyclist then you may automatically have the know-how to judge a bike – but experience may not help when it comes to (fit related) bicycle parts and accessories and clothing as brands have inherent differences. Numerous new brands and internet based direct-to-customer brands, meaning that they don’t have a legacy (for example, Shimano road cycling shoes have a wide-fit).

The best case scenario (but unknown in cycling) are retailers who provide the flexibility for customers to easily return items simply because they don’t fit. And one step short is to provide the best possible size information recommendations, for example ‘our race cut jersey is a tight fit, if you prefer a looser fit we recommend chosing the next size up’

The reality is that this is a risk that the customer accepts and although local bike shops  have and advantage, as time passes online shoppers are showing less reluctance committing to high ticket size specific cycling gear including bikes and premium cycling clothing.

Genuine Customer Reviews are Gold

Shops and brands want to sell, they promote all of the virtues of a product but how good is it really? The opinions of other customers matter as they generally don’t have vested interest when they share their personal experience and help others.

Amazon lead the way by incorporating customer reviews to drive sales and because they have such a dominent market position, Amazon happily accept the good and the bad reviews to give an overall rating – if the product is poorly rated, customers can use the ‘similar products’ features to find a better rated alternative.

Many online bike shops also successfully implement customer reviews – the bigger the shop, the more popular the product, the more reviews. And the more reviews, the more valuable it is for customers in judging a products value based on the crowds opinion.

However one problem highlighted by customers of online bike shops, both big and small, is that negative reviews may be filtered out so never appear or are subsequently removed. This isn’t an ethical approach by retailers however is hard to detect this manipulation.

The best approach to help fight this is to complain to the bike shop and spread the word on the forums if your review isn’t published. When the online shops recognise that customers want both the good and the bad to make a more informed purchased then this benefits all. The bicycle shops may initially sell less of the poorly rated product, but if they are smart, they will move on to better products and as a result create genuinly happy customers.