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Gear Prudence: How bad is it, really, to buy bike stuff over the internet instead of at a local bike shop? And if it’s OK to buy over the internet, is it ever acceptable to go to a bike shop first to check it out in-person to make sure you like it? —Buying Retail Or Warehouse? Seems Equal Really
Dear BROWSER: GP will never tell you that you can’t buy stuff over the internet, which facilitates worldwide commerce in a pretty spectacular way. Online marketplaces can get you things that might be impossible to procure locally, like basement-made bespoke handlebar bags from Portland or vintage Italian components for your museum-worthy ride. And on occasion (though not as often as you might think), you can find some really good deals. But the second practice you mention—treating your local bike shop like a showroom and subsequently buying online—is a big no-no. And yeah, they know when you’re doing it.
“It is disheartening to spend 15 minutes with a customer discussing helmet fit and function only to have them thank you for your time and ask to snap a picture of the label,” says M. Loren Copsey, co-owner of The Daily Rider. Bike shops serve as a font of expertise on a complicated set of goods. Learning about new products and which ones are reliable, and imparting rider-specific advice, takes staff time. In this case, time really is money. Relying on five-star reviews from randos on the internet is one thing (good luck!), but asking professionals for their opinions, letting them convince you, and then buying it on Amazon? This asks the bike shop to bear the costs of inventory, rent, and salary while capturing none of the upside. You don’t have to buy something just because a salesperson was nice or informative, but you shouldn’t go into a retail experience with the express purpose of taking advantage of people you’re asking for help. That is extremely messed up.
Moreover, doing this can have real consequences. “People have started wanting ‘experiences’ in their retail and restaurant activity,” Copsey says. “Our neighbors include a coffee shop and a bookstore. People always say they want small retail in their neighborhoods, but it can go away if price is prioritized as the primary purchasing criterion.” Even if you don’t care about local retail generally, it’s worth caring about bike shops in particular. Bikes need servicing, and unless you’re doing all of your wrenching yourself, you’ll want professional mechanics nearby. Maintaining a good relationship with a mechanic you trust will help you in the long run. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who writes @sharrowsdc. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.