A while ago, one of my closest friends was looking for a bike, a little comfort hybrid to ride around with her kids. She read some Consumer Reports, and had an idea of what she wanted. Her husband had purchased several bikes from us, so she came in to look around. She didn't spend much time, was vague about her needs and unwilling to try any bikes. She left, and bought a bike that we carried from Dick's. Ouch!
Another friend remarked during a recent visit, and with no malicious intent, that she buys stuff online, because you can't trust salespeople; they're always trying to sell you stuff you don't need.
A third friend related her experience about purchasing some specialty equipment online: she contacted an outfit that advertised the best prices, got pressured by the phone sales person to make a purchase, felt duped and cheated, and insisted on returning the order. She subsequently made a purchase through a trusted vendor, who offered good expertise, asked key questions to find out what she needed, and offered a fair price.
As consumers, we want to get the best deal. We are trained to distrust salespeople. It's easy enough to buy shoes, or books, or Legos anonymously. But technical equipment is another story. We don't want to feel dumb, yet we want good advice. Reading product reviews and talking to friends can be good starting points. But neither is very objective.
Though frankly, objectivity isn't really what you want. Neither is good advice. What you really want is for someone with some expertise to guide you toward making your own subjective decision. And for that, you have to open up a bit, and trust someone.
It's difficult to put yourself in the hands of an expert, especially one who works on commission. Our staff at Rapid Transit Cycleshop do not work on commission. There are two main reasons for this. One is that rather than creating a conflict of interest between the salesperson and the customer, we want the salesperson to look out for the customer's best interests. The other reason is that the salesperson is only one person in the chain of events that brings the quality product to the customer. The entire staff, from the product buyer, to assembler, to the mechanic who checks the bike and takes care of the follow-up service, the manager who has trained the salesperson to uncover the customer's needs, everyone contributes to the process of putting the right bike in the hands of the right cyclist.
Do we get everyone to trust us? Certainly not, as illustrated by the story of my friend. Commission or not, we obviously still want to make the sale. But here's the thing, we don't want the sale at any cost, because the sale is not the end of the line. Rather, the sale is a begining of a relationship with a customer, and we want that relationship to be based on trust.
Maybe that's too touchy-feely for some people. Perhaps they prefer that anonymous experience of buying a bike from a megamart. But if you're going to take biking seriously, you have to get a little touchy-feely with your friendly bike shop, or at least a friendly bike shop employee.
So how do you find one?
Go into a shop, and ask a few questions. Do they work on commission? Do they ride bikes in the way that you do? Do they sound like they are willing to answer questions?
If you've walked into the right bike shop, the conversation should change after you've covered some preliminaries. Now, they should be asking you questions. Whether you've walked in with no idea or a very specific idea of what
you are looking for, the staff should try to learn more about your
needs to help you explore the possibilities.
What was the last bike you rode?
How long have you had it?
What about it did you or did you not enjoy?
How much did you ride in the past?
How do you plan you use the new bike you will buy?
Are there any specific features that you need in a bike?
If they point you to a bike without having asked a single question, keep looking.