Service: Chain Reaction Cycles

I received an email last Friday (thanks Chris) informing me that Chain Reaction Cycles is selling 9-speed Shimano Tiagra model 4503 triple front mechs for £10 (RRP £31.99). Free delivery. This is the same front mech as the one on our 2008 Ridgeback Panorama touring bikes. With the industry move to 10-speed (why?) they are becoming hard to come by. Discontinued at Wiggle. To use an ugly but popular expression, it was a no-brainer. I bought two.

I ordered them mid-afternoon on the Friday and they arrived before 10.00 am the next day, Saturday. Inside the box, a £10 discount voucher and a form explaining very clearly how to return the items if I am not satisfied. Well, I am satisfied. Impressed, even.

Superficially, all that Chain Reaction Cycles has to do when they receive an online order is put the items in a box and give them to the delivery driver when he/she arrives for the daily collection. We take this sort of thing for granted nowadays. One of my sons does it – he sells glassware online. But I know there is more to it than that. It takes a well-oiled machine to maintain this level of customer service. The batteries I ordered from Amazon took several days to arrive and we are still waiting for some window blinds Sandra ordered eight days ago.

Chain Reaction Cycles is located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland (I didn't know that until I looked it up), employs upwards of 330 people, sends out 30,000 orders every week, and reportedly turns over some £77.5 million. An average of 5,000 potential customers views its website at any one time. Wiggle's turnover appears to be even more – the company was sold recently for £180 million. The UK market for bicycles, parts and accessories is £1.4 billion, £25 billion worldwide. This seems like a success story in itself.

Whether there is something specially super-efficient about online bicycle retailers I don't know. I do know I would not want to be setting up a local bike shop selling over the counter. Like British high streets, their days are numbered, surely, at least in their present form. Halfords survives by being out-of-town, leading the market in car aftercare, selling bicycles very cheaply indeed and staying open seven days a week. My local bike shop, by comparison, is closed on Sundays and doesn't even open on Wednesdays.

In this instance – the front mech – I knew what I wanted. One advantage the local bike shop has over online retailers is that they will tell you what you need, which part is right for your bike. It is not so easy to select the right one from the huge selection at Chain Reaction or Wiggle. If you are buying a complete bike and you want to see it first, you can go to LeisureLakes Bikes and then shop around for the best price. It will probably be somewhere online. I do not understand how local bike shops intend to survive unless all they do is repairs.

As an aside, I do not understand why people buy timber at B&Q when it can be bought for one third of the price from a local timber merchant. I bought some plasterboard, also at one third of B&Q's price, online from Surrey over 200 miles away. Next day the delivery driver, who had actually come from Cheshire, told me he could supply it even cheaper. Another ugly expression: go figure!

8 comments on “Service: Chain Reaction Cycles”

  1. Chris wrote:

    Patrick wrote: I do not understand how local bike shops intend to survive unless all they do is repairs.

    The various Cycle to Work Schemes have been very helpful to independent bike shops. As far as I'm aware, if your employer has a deal that includes local shops it doesn't allow you to buy the same bike – probably for cheaper – online. Having said that, Evans Cycles do their own "Ride2Work" scheme. Employers have to sign up to specific schemes, I believe. For instance, I helped a friend of mine choose a Boardman commuter bike. He had to use his voucher at Halfords (he works for Humberside Police), but other public sector organisations tend to favour the smaller independent stores, I believe.

    Chain Reaction Cycles had a special Valentine's Day offer of 12% off if you spent £80 that day. I would have liked a pair of pedals (RRP £100) that were going for £79.99 before the discount. It would have been a nice short-term bargain, but more expensive in the long-run if you factor in the cost of the divorce...

    As a matter of fact I did order from CRC a 2010 Endura FS260 road jersey in a large for £31.00 on Sunday (RRP £44.99) and it came yesterday – no £10 voucher, though :sad:. I see they are now for sale at £27.00, although I'm not too disappointed because it's no longer available in my size in black. I was allowed that because my present white road jersey alarms Mrs Bailey with its near-see-through properties 😮

  2. Kern wrote:

    Patrick, you open up a whole can of worms with this post. Two cans of worms, as a matter of fact.

    First, there are the changing levels of expectation among consumers for choice, price, speed, convenience, quality and service in every market segment today (including political governance, but let’s not go there).

    I would have chosen book retailers as an example of how changing consumer patterns are causing the demise of local businesses rather than the LBS. In fact, now that I think of it, the local bike shops around here appear to be in pretty good shape. Anecdotally I know of no one locally who shops online for bicycle kit.

    In our limited experience the range of selection in North American bike shops is superior to those of Europe. In both Germany and Ireland we needed cycling gloves, and in both instances had difficulty finding product that was remotely suitable. Cycling gear we would expect to find in any decent bike shop was nowhere to be seen.

    Your second can of worms, vocabulary, is the changing lexicon of business, to which I would throw in some more ugly terms: value chain, time to market, order to cash, value proposition, benefits realization, supply chain management, target operating model, continuous improvement, customer relations management, etc. etc. The vocabulary may cause the eyes to glaze, but I would bet serious money that CRC has discussed most of these when crafting its business model.

    Which gets back to the first can of worms. Local bike shops can survive, but only if they offer benefits to local consumers that are above and beyond their online competitors. Service levels and quality of goods are a given in today’s market – no one succeeds without these. Choice and price are flexible – consumers will accept limited product selection and pay a bit more if the products are excellent and they can take them home immediately.

    Convenience (location), speed (stock on hand), and service (no-questions-asked return policy) are the “value proposition” of the local bike shop, backed up by an adequate selection of high quality products that are priced at a slight premium.

    The LBS is a business first, and a bike shop second. And, oh yes, they also have to be able to repair the bike :) . What to do about Chris' divorce, I have no idea.

  3. Chris wrote:

    I also think that many people who buy from bike shops may be worried about what to do when something goes wrong with their bike, so they don't use the Internet. One shop I have bought from has a notice that it will only repair bikes bought from them. And online retailers don't allow you to pop in a few quid over the year and pick up a bike on Christmas Eve.

    I have been stung by one shop that in offering a rear derailleur, supposedly in a sale, showed the full RRP of the latest model. I didn't pay that price, obviously, but what I actually got was a much earlier model that I'm convinced had been used. There were what appeared to be chain marks on the inside of the derailleur cage and the bolt for one of the jockey wheels had been inserted from the wrong side. I wonder if it had been replaced when a new bike had an upgraded derailleur fitted. You pays your money...

    Don't worry, Kern. I won't be buying those pedals.

  4. Patrick wrote:

    Kern wrote: The LBS is a business first, and a bike shop second.

    Only one LBS that I know in our town fits this model and it has limited stock. The products on sale are by no means excellent – they can only afford to stock what sells regularly, standard stuff. Mostly you have to order what you want and wait a few days (ordering online you'd have it next day, cheaper, provided you know exactly what you want). The other bike shops: I can only imagine they are some kind of hobby. The chaps who work there come to the counter with grease on their hands. I would never buy parts there now but they do provide a useful service to the regular flow of people coming for a puncture repaired (£10) and such like (so long as it's not Wednesday or Sunday). One was very good to my father in his 80s, looking after his dodgy bike for next to nothing.

    Chris wrote: One shop I have bought from has a notice that it will only repair bikes bought from them.

    I've seen this too. It seems crazy.

    Maybe the UK's smallness compared to North America and white van man is what makes online the obvious choice.

    [added] just noticed Chain Reaction Cycles offers free returns.

  5. Carl wrote:

    @Chris: My friend Steve's white lycra bib shorts often offer a window into prison life on wet days of riding…
    On a more serious note I agree LBS’s are being left behind by their online competitors. In terms of pricing and availability my LBS can’t compete. One thing I need as a self confessed intermediate rider is information about the various parts I’m willing to spend my hard earned cash on. I’m willing to learn if someone gives me the time to explain something. The appeal of an LBS for me is that I’m buying off someone who knows what they’re talking about, however over the past year I’ve had several occasions where I’ve been laughed out of a shop by some spotty faced teenager due to a seemingly ‘stupid’ question I’ve asked. I’ve found this elitist attitude in various LBS’s around the country. Everyone seems to be an expert but only willing to discuss problems with a fellow ‘expert’. I’ve had similar experiences in some quite hostile forum threads (most are helpful but some…well that’s another topic altogether). I think customer service is a vital component when it comes to online purchasing. To actually feel like you’re buying off a company who know about the products they’re selling and not just shifting units to make a quick £ is important to me. My best experience to date came from a website called probikekit.com. Had a query about some shoes I’d had my eye on for a while (I won’t say which in case my wife reads this but let’s just say I know how you feel Chris!) so rang the number on the website. Was put through to a nice young chap by the name of Mick (possibly Nick but its not important). Mick/Nick had a fountain of knowledge on the subject and I didn’t feel uncomfortable revealing my lack of expertise on the subject. This was an experienced cyclist who knew what they were on about and was willing to share his expert knowledge with me. Quite a refreshing change from your automated faceless responses you get from most online outlets now a days.

  6. Chris wrote:

    Hi, Carl. Too much information on those bib shorts 😯

    I know what you mean about some bike shops. I added the following comment a while ago to one of Patrick's earlier posts:

    I think that buying a bike is a bit like buying a computer. I’ve heard or read that people tend to go to a Dixons/Currys/PC World-type shop to buy their first computer. Next time they buy online. Why? Well, if you remember that old Not The Nine O’clock News sketch where Mel Smith tries to buy a ‘gramophone’ you could replace the music shop jargon today with cycling-specific lingo and I reckon it would feel just as intimidating for non-cyclists – or returning cyclists – to get a bike from certain places these days. If you do manage to buy that bike and find out a bit about what you really wanted for next time – assuming there is a next time – you might want to avoid that experience again.

    At least that represents my impression, and the one gained by people I know who tried to buy a bike under the Cycle to Work Scheme from a cliquey shop. (They went elsewhere.)

    Well done finding somewhere online with someone you can talk to who's helpful.

  7. Garry wrote:

    I've a local bike shop which is pretty good and they will say they will get you something hard to find and actually will.
    I also buy a fair amount of stuff online, tyres from Cycleways in Dublin (Big shop and mail-order businsess. They are the only stockists in Ireland of my standard tyres, Specialized Fatboys) panniers and other exotic items from various shops. I've bought two bikes on mail-order from St.John Street Cycles. They have huge stock.
    I'd say I get 60% of my stuff from the LBS.

  8. Alan wrote:

    When I wheeled Brown Bike into my brand-new LBS a couple of years ago, the chap took one look and said, "Gosh, that's an old bike."

    Chris wrote: One shop I have bought from has a notice that it will only repair bikes bought from them.

    I've often seen that in recent years. When I'm touring, I assume that if something bad happens to the bike I can just wheel/carry it to a bike shop. With signs like that, I hope they would take pity on me.

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