Geo restriction Country Blocking

Geo Blocking Sales for bikes and parts

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.

Product No Longer Available

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.

Error 404 Page Not Found

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.

Mavic Ksyrium UK

Mavic Ksyrium Australia

 

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!

Evans Cycles Unavailable

 

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.

 

Local Bike Shop Online Store

Can a local bike shop make it big online?

This is a loaded question, most of the worlds biggest online retailers started out as local bike store who did the right thing at the right time in the right place. Local bike shops have made it big and many others are trying.

The real question is, “why do some bike shops make it and others fail?” If the successful online shops did the right thing and the right time in the right place, what are the wrong things?

 

Lack of Genuine Committment

There is a different between trying to be successful online, and actually committing to online retail. The common scenario is that the local bike shop decides it wants to go online – pays a web design company $10,000 to create a shop and struggles to get sales. When they do get sales, fulfilling orders is messy and in no time the online inventory is out of date, along with the software and it discarded as an expensive failure…. because ‘the internet doesn’t work’.

The web design agency play a role in the demise for failing to educate the bike shop and showing them the big picture. And the cost conscious bike shop all too easily ignores or overlooks key parts of online retailing. As noted in an earlier article, If you build it, they won’t necessarily come.

Part of genuine committment is a vision to look beyond the word of the one-dimensional web design company and take the initiative to understand the building blocks. Also to question information, to analyze, to research and make smarter decisions.

The building blocks for successful online retail

A brief and incomplete list of some of the key building blocks:

Marketing: whether big or small, you have to invest in marketing. You have to spend money and the smart retailers also discover the best channels and keep trying new approaches.

Fulfillment: A massive topic, and for the sake of simplicity includes logistics. This is ensuring that the inventory is current, that delivery projections are up-to-date through to processing the order, packing, dispatching, delivery and tracking. All along keeping the customer informed and happy.

Customer Service: As with traditional retailers, customer service can make or break you. Of course the customer service requirements for online sale is different, but customers want immediate satisfaction and immediate answers. Word of mouth is just as important for online retailers and negative customer experiences are amplified even further in the internet.

Technology: From responsive websites to cater to smart phone and tablets to effective order process as well as clever technical integration and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). You need an expert at your side who knows technology.

Price: The internet makes it inherently easier to compare prices, as long as the retailer is trusted the the lowest price wins. Why pay more for the same product (an online retailer can hardly sell their ‘customer service’)?

 

The Visionary

Any bike shop can set-up online, but a visionary does more. They understand the potential of online to their business, they understand the change or adaption required. They invest and continue to drive, often employing specialists which push their online retail abilities beyond others.

It means that online retail is not for all, traditional businesses certainly shouldn’t ignore online retail (they need to adapt to remain competitive) but if a retailer isn’t truely dedicated to opening up online retail, they are often better off investing in their core business.

But their are plenty of sales out there, and just because one retailer is popular, it doesn’t mean they can maintain. Management and profit orientated decisions can taint a retailer leaving gaps for young online retailers who can do it better.

 

photo: © ubray

Shifting Expectations when Buying Online

When you go to your local bike shop and order a bike or gear that they don’t have in stock, it can take time. Typically you wait for the next delivery from the wholesaler, sometimes they stuff up and it takes forever but there are expectional circumstances when the bike or gear comes in quickly, you get the call – though still have to make the second trip to pick up.

From the comfort of your home (or workplace) you can place an online order – and with standard delivery it needs to arrive as fast as possible. Customers have different expectations online – the online world needs to be fast and a delay that would be normal when dealing with a local bike shop is a late delivery.

The big online shops such as Chain Reaction Cycles and Wiggle have packing and dispatch all figured out – providing the items are in-stock, your delivery can be on its way the following day. Sometimes when certain items are delayed, the remaining available items will be sent immediately so you have most of the things you ordered sooner.

For established retailers, the delays are all with the delivery companies. Just like a missing sock in a washing machine, there is a fair amount of mystery why package A arrives in 3 days and why package B arrives in 6 weeks – no one really knows but it costs the customer service hours pacifying irate customers.

But fast turnover times is supported and promoted by the retailers, so customers don’t have unreasonable expections rather online is a different game. The retailers on-top of their delivery partners while maintain customer satisfaction and drive repeat business.