There’s something about shopping online that gets your heart racing. It may be the clear, backlit pictures; the catchy marketing blurbs promising a solution to all your woes; the tantalising allure of sale badges promoting massive discounts; or it could simply be the enormous selection of models, sizes and colours that brick stores could never stock. Seems too good to be true? Well, it can be if you’re not careful. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re fully prepared for the experience. – Paulo Conde & Gresham Enerson (Rookie Project – MTB for Average Bros)
First and foremost, make sure that the store that you’re buying from is credible. You want to check for an established online presence, not some fly-by-night looking to make a quick buck. You also want to check out experiences that other customers have had with the store. Online cycling forums, consumer review sites like HelloPeter and of course Google, are your friends in this regard. Realistically everyone has their off days, so you can expect the odd bad review, but these should be the exception rather than the norm.
Another aspect worth considering is whether the retailer is an official distributor for the product you’re buying. If they aren’t, the part you’re so lovingly lusting over is probably classified as a ‘grey import’, and is more than likely not covered by a local warranty. Typically items bought from international sites will not be covered by local warranties. So if you do have a problem with it, you’ll have to manage the warranty process yourself, via the channel you purchased the product.
When it comes to pricing, at first glance the online world appears to be on a perpetual sale. Most websites will show the ‘retail’ price and the ‘current’ price, leading you to believe that the items are being sold for less than they’re worth. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that this is often not the case. It’s simple consumerism. Let people think they’re getting a bargain and they’ll be more inclined to hit the ‘buy’ button. This isn’t unique to online cycling stores – it applies to all e-commerce sites. Be sure to get a few comparative prices to make sure that the listed price is fair. And remember the age-old adage; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. It’s worth checking sites regularly because specials are frequently added, often with limited stock availability, so they get snapped up quickly.
If you’re ordering from an overseas site, remember that they will not factor tax into their prices. Don’t let this fool you though; you will get nailed with VAT and import duties when the parcel lands on South African soil (along with disbursement fees, stamp duties, clearance fees, etc). We’ve found that as a general rule of thumb you can bank on adding around 20% to the total invoice cost for things classified as ‘bike parts’. Sometimes you get lucky and there’s no import duties charged, but sometimes your parcel gets incorrectly classified into a more heavily taxed category such as ‘clothing’, and you have to fork out substantially more.
Read the product specs as if you were reading a pre-nuptial contract. The cycling industry is fraught with different standards so you need to make sure that the thing you’re ordering is actually the thing you need. Details to check include length, diameter, mount, drive-train speed, etc. Often the items on sale are the less-common variants that are not sold as easily and end up sitting on a shelf for a reason.
When it comes to clothing, be wary of the sizing! I’m a stock-standard ‘medium’ bro. Always have been. I ordered a ‘medium’ cycling shirt online (yes, it was on a ridiculous special…) and when it arrived I could barely squeeze my arms through the sleeves, never mind zip it up. We are accustomed to South African sizing standards, so be aware that with foreign clothing brands, the sizing standards can be very different.
Next up, you need to look at the cost of getting the goods to your door. Individual product prices may seem attractive, but when you factor in a few hundred bucks for shipping, they suddenly lose their appeal. The smaller the order, the more this applies. Would you really want to pay R250 delivery on a R200 chain? You’re generally given a few delivery options, with the delivery cost going up exponentially as the delivery time decreases fractionally. A nice touch that is becoming more common these days is free shipping over a certain basket value, typically around the R1000 mark. If your order is not going to qualify for free shipping, ask a few friends/colleagues at work if they’d like to order anything. Best case, you club together and get free shipping. Worst case, you end up splitting the shipping costs.
Also worth noting is that the cheaper delivery options generally utilise the public mailing infrastructure, so you do get cases where parcels get ‘lost’ or where delivery is delayed for days on end. Sometimes forking out the extra cash for couriered delivery is worth it. If possible, get a tracking number for your order to allow you to track your goods through the delivery process.
The last thing to bear in mind is the worst-case scenario where you need to return an item, whether it’s a compatibility issue or a fault. The return shipping costs will be for your expense and it’s far more complicated than simply walking into your local bike shop. This is the exception rather than the norm, but just be aware that it is a possibility.
Don’t get us wrong – there’s a host of awesome online shops out there with bargains that will have you itching to hit the ‘buy’ button, so don’t let this all put you off. But just be aware that there can be pitfalls.
Gresham Enersen and Paulo Conde are not pros; just a couple of average bros that love riding their mountain bikes – in the real world… They’re on twitter: @grusomegresh & @paulotheporra
TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio
*Originally published in TREAD Issue 29, 2014 – All rights reserved