Our hands are up, we sell bike clothing online. You’d think we’d delight in the fact that many bike shops fail to market and (more importantly) sell to female customers. Not so. We think that the failure of some bike shops to do this is just bad news for women’s cycling. It’s undeniable that more men cycle (and cycle more miles) than women and thus make up more of the market. However, women cyclists are still a huge consumer group that should not be ignored.
We recently had a discussion on a local women’s cycling Facebook group about bike shops.
Here’s some problems we identified and what we think can be done to improve female footfall and increase their sales.
“Female Cyclists” isn’t helpful as an identifier
One of the comments that left the biggest impression on us from our Facebook discussion was this: women are not a homogenous group. Within the bounds of “female cyclist” there are lots of different types of customers.
Is the shop trying to attract female racers? Or are they trying to attract women who ride E-bikes as a means of getting to work? It’s so important to remember that there are distinct customer groups within “women cyclists”. We sell performance clothing for women who (mostly) ride road bikes – stocking our clothing wouldn’t make sense for a MTB-focused shop, even if it does have lots of female customers.
One of the reasons why some shops fail to sell to women is because the selection of products isn’t right.
Good service can help win customers, male and female
Most of the problems encountered that put women off bike shops aren’t gender-specific. They’re just plain old bad customer service.
None of us really want to see our local bike shop shut down, so why aren’t we loyal to them?
It’s a fact that most bike shops can’t compete with online pricing. It’s a race to the bottom, and in the end the consumer will lose when there’s no local bike shop to do services or repairs. Yes, we mostly sell online, but we don’t want to see shops close.
What we think bike shops have as their best weapon is customer service. Looking after customers well and being at the centre of the local bike community is crucial to a shops success.
If customers feel they’re ignored as soon as they even set foot into a store – or are spoken down to or patronised, they’ll take their money elsewhere. And that elsewhere will probably start with a “www.”.
Sort Out Stock
One of the biggest reasons we’ve heard for women not even going into bike shops is that they believe there is nothing suitable stocked. If shops want to sell to any group of women, they need to offer choice. Check out any high street shop to illustrate this – there isn’t just one skirt. There will be a variety of lengths, colours and fabrics. In the same way, if shops are offering just one option suitable, they’re not offering choice.
We recommend that if shops are going to stock women’s cycling clothing, that they stock at least three different brands – and offer as much variety for their type of customer as possible. This is so that they can offer enough options in fit, colour and price level. This does go back to the first point though, the type of female customer should be identified, and brands/products selected for that type of customer – rather than just offering a random selection of “women’s kit”.
To avoid “window shoppers” (those who go and try things on in-store with the sole intention of looking at in person before ordering it online), we suggest shops stock brands that aren’t proliferated by the big boys in online bike shopping. This also means they’ll be offering something different to their customer. Independent brands might be able to offer better margins, or offer more selling support, like helping to host in-store events too.
Shops are also at an advantage if they offer a well-lit, clean fitting room with a full length mirror. Being able to try on kit will make customers more likely to buy, and less likely to return items.
Don’t judge books by their cover
If someone rocks up to your shop in high heeled sandals and a sundress, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t know her way around a bike.
Lots of women we’ve spoken to have experienced being patronised. It’s probably good that shops avoid baffling customers with jargon if they’re not sure what their knowledge level is. That said, there’s a world of difference between that and shops disregarding what the customer has asked for. If they’ve asked where the road bike saddles are, they’re probably not going to want to be directed to the heavily-padded-armchair-comfy-urban-saddles.
Some problems women have as cyclists can be embarrassing to bring up. Like worrying about your bits and whether that saddle will be a good fit. Female staff members, are most likely going to be more empathetic to these issues. If not, it’s important stores do some research so they can empathise.
The junk-shop problem
We’ve visited many bike shops in our time and one of the key things we think the industry is behind on is visual merchandising. Cycling clothing is expensive – in any other retail environment clothing sold for these price levels would be hung carefully, steamed and the labels carefully displayed. In bike shops, clothing is too often on mismatched hangers, wrinkled from being in storage and generally poorly presented. We think this is a huge barrier for clothing sales.
If stores are serious about selling clothing, then we think getting serious about presentation is super important.
We’ve summarised the problems women experience in bike shops, and how we think they could be solved.
What do you think? Are there any points you strongly agree / disagree with? If you run a bike shop, we’d love to hear what you’ve found successful! Let us know via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.