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!