Let's Tackle Online Buying, Shall We?

Brompton Folding Bike photographed by Jay Madden

Brompton Folding Bike photographed by Jay Madden

We've all been tempted by low prices offered by internet outlets, but when you're talking about buying a new bike, it's definitely worth considering whether the internet really offers the best deal.

It is true that the final answer will depend on your local bike shop and their commitment to top-level customer service. But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that your local bike shop has the customer's interest foremost in its mind, like we do here at Cosmic Bikes in Chicago.

First, let's tackle bicycles, because that's pretty easy.

Bicycles are fundamentally different from any other commonly purchased retail product. Unlike jeans, books, or pet supplies, etc.,  they require thorough, professional assembly to function properly and safely. An internet or mass merchant bike may seem like a bargain, until you add the cost of assembling, correcting improper assembly, and follow-up maintenance. Each bike purchased from Cosmic Bikes has been meticulously assembled by a skilled mechanic, and includes a full year of service. This adds up to hundreds of dollars in savings over what seems like a great deal online.

In-stock bicycles are usually available the same day, and those special-ordered through our shop usually don't take longer than bikes you may be tempted to order online. Even if the bike you ordered online arrives more quickly, you will need to set aside time if you can do your own assembly, or time and money to have it assembled by a pro. Our price includes shipping, complete assembly and a service package. If you'd rather not fight traffic, we'll even deliver the bike to your home or office in the Chicagoland area.

All bicycles we sell, from by stock or special-order, are also covered by our no-hassle 30-day return or exchange guarantee, without additional shipping or restocking fees.

Parts and accessories are a little trickier.

Sometimes, the price online seems awfully hard to beat. Sometimes, your special online membership guarantees free two-day delivery. Sometimes, you're tooling around on your laptop and it's just an impulse buy, and, well, before you know it, you've clicked "complete order". Oh well.

There's not much your local bike shop can do about the middle-of-the-night, or middle-of-the-coffee-break impulse buys. We've all done it. But let me try to address the other reasons.

First, the price.

You can't always assume it's lower online. When you consider all the variables, the deal your local bike shop offers may be quite competitive:

  • Many specialty bicycle distributors have strict rules about online sales and manufacturer suggested retail prices. If the specialty item is available online, the price may not be significantly lower.

  • Unless the item you're buying is very easy to install, you need to consider the labor cost. With a purchase of a new bike or selected major tune-ups, we provide free installation many accessories and parts purchased from us. With items like racks, fenders, tires and repair parts, what you save on labor can easily exceed any discounts you get buying online. (Click here for a description of what's included in each service.)

  • What you may save in sales tax may be offset by the price of installation charges, since like most other local shops, we cannot extend the free labor offer to items purchased elsewhere.

Next, delivery.

You can't always assume that we won't get it for you as fast or faster.

  • Almost anything from several major parts and accessories distributors comes to us overnight for orders placed before 2pm or so.

  • We typically order a couple of times a week, but we may add ordering days to handle customer special orders. Which means that it would be unusual for you to wait more than a day or two for common items, or about a week for items from specialty vendors.

  • Because of existing arrangements with our distributors, there is no additional shipping cost to you.

  • And, as with bicycles, we offer no-hassle 30-day returns, again, with no additional shipping.

  • You won't have to track down the UPS guy or worry about a package being left on your doorstep to be vandalized. Your merchandise gets delivered to our shop during business hours, and you will get a call when it is ready to be picked up or installed on your bicycle.

Third, compatibility.

Taking a special order from you involves quite a bit more than clicking a few choices on a website. Especially when it comes to accessories mounted on your bike, and virtually all replacement parts and wheel components, it takes some expertise to determine full compatibility and optimum functioning with your existing bike. We've handled many installations that had to be halted, because the part ordered by the customer was slightly different from one that was actually needed. Such glitches often lead to additional expense. Our mechanics can take the guesswork and hassle out of the process for you, making sure the correct parts are ordered from the outset, and the final cost is what you expected.

Then, there are those specialty items.

You know, those items that never, ever go on sale. You may occasionally find a used one, but they are few and far between, because, well, it's the law of supply and demand. With those items -- whether they it's a Brompton bicycle, a Spurcycle bell or a Nutcase helmet -- we promise you a predictable delivery time, as determined by the manufacturer, a fair price, excellent service, and full satisfaction.

And finally, what is it that you really want?

This is the part where it's really hard to avoid sounding defensive. I think many of us, if not most, embrace the concept of shopping locally. This isn't limited to local farmers' markets. All your local merchants invest untold time, energy, perseverance and love to bring you the services and merchandise that we think you are looking for. We have taken care to staff our stores with people who care about your project and are eager to share their expertise and craftsmanship.

If all you want is to "showroom" for the best price, we have no choice but to swallow hard, and accept it as the harsh reality of today's market.

But if you are looking for community, meaning, trust, and all the other things you can't get online -- not really -- put away your smartphone, and make friends with your local merchant. We'll both win.