Bike retail not adapting marketing around cost of living squeeze

The cost of living crisis has consumers on edge, to the point they may even turn their backs on Black Friday this year. John Styles analyses over 100 bike retail homepages to see how the trade is reacting, if at all, to the issue of tightening spend…

2022 has seen the worst squeeze on consumer disposable income that most people can remember. With rising energy prices, rising interest rates and mortgages, low growth and high inflation, the UK fares worst against all the G-7 group of developed nations. Added to this, the new government’s mini budget, announced on Friday 23rd of September resulted in a further de-valued pound, raising both the cost of importing goods and the prospects of additional interest rate rises.

The bike trade has already been feeling the pinch. Statistically, UK bike sales are down by a quarter against pre-COVID levels, according to the Bicycle Association, while eBike sales have stalled, according to latest update from the BA’s market data study, which tracks 80% of the industry’s retail sales at point of purchase.

With affordability and disposable income increasingly polarised within UK society, we can expect the majority of consumers to struggle with purchasing a new bike. Some may downgrade their purchase expectations; others may reinvest in their existing bikes through servicing and replacement parts. But for those seeking a brand-new model, monthly payments via cycle-to-work or finance schemes may prove the only way to manage this purchase.

Certainly, in my day-to-day role, many of the stores I deal with are reporting a significant uplift in these enquiries. There may also be a significant tranche of “wealthy but worried” consumers. Those with savings, who could buy a new bike outright, but instead wish to retain a buffer against further financial shocks. Those consumers may seek out 0% or C2W deals especially, to feel more secure.

If consumer behaviour has shifted towards purchasing fewer bikes, could monthly payment schemes, be one way out of this decline? And is the industry doing enough to promote this type of purchase? To answer this question, we visited the home pages of a representative sample of 100 IBD websites and reviewed the home page content of the “Big 6” national cycle chains. Granted, that’s a fairly “broad brush barometer” but, here is what we found.

cost of living marketing

Looking at the IBD market we see the primary focus is on specific bikes and on the retailer’s own store. With 36% of IBDs are focusing on “Bike-related” message, such as specific new model in stock. While 30% major on a message around their store, quite often just “welcome to my store”. On the other hand, 10% are clearly motivated to move stock, and 5% focus on a key accessory, such as a new clothing line or turbo trainer. A further 12% have miscellaneous messages such as events, demo days or race winners. To quote Donny Perry’s excellent book “Leading out Retail” – many are collectively a little guilty of “feature spouting”? I.e., talking about what interests us (our stores and our favourite new bikes), instead of focusing on what the consumer needs right now (a way of affording a bike). What I find concerning about the overall picture are three things:


Firstly, our sample of 100 IBD websites found that 71% mention monthly payments of some kind on their home page, but it’s rarely the main message. Often, it’s very small or hidden “below the fold*” (Jakob Nielsen)”. Only 7% of the IBD market are featuring a prominent main message around cycle to work and/or finance schemes. More worrying, the other 29% either don’t offer this service or keep it hidden at a level below the home page.

Given that much of the country is struggling with the cost of living crisis, I’m not convinced that the industry is doing enough to push the message about how we can make bikes more affordable to purchase. Okay, monthly payments have a charge and therefore an impact on margin. But isn’t it better to sell a bike with a reduced margin than not sell a bike at all? Especially as a monthly scheme can sometimes increase the customer’s budget.

Jonathan Harrison from ActSmart says on the finding: “Previously published independent market research clearly shows that customers now expect to be offered multiple payment methods and will look to shop elsewhere if they aren’t available or easily identified at the beginning of the customer journey. As the average price of bike, and in particular e-bikes, has increased coupled with challenges faced with the cost-of-living increases, there is an even greater need to offer retail finance. New figures released by the Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) show that consumer finance new business grew by 11% in July 2022 compared with the same month in 2021. In the first seven months of 2022, new business was 22% higher than in the same period in 2021.”


Secondly, prior to making a purchase of a new bicycle, some consumers may need to be convinced, shown or enlightened about the cost savings that they can make versus for example public transport or using a car. Although some brands have been pushing this message in the wider public domain (Raleigh and Specialized most notably) it doesn’t appear that very many websites are featuring content around affordability. Or the savings generated by using bicycles for commuting & everyday transport. Or as another industry rep put it to me A stores’ worst customer is an existing cyclist, who already has most of what they need. What stores need is more non-cyclists to turn into cyclists”.


Thirdly, I found only one store with a prominent home page message about servicing. And if cash strapped consumers are repairing bikes instead of purchasing them, wouldn’t it make sense to talk about that? Perhaps if workshops are busy repairing bikes, we have a tendency to think “well this is ok, I have enough bikes to repair”. But perhaps, the opposite may be true? When the workshop is busy, we should be featuring a message about repairs. Because for every consumer who is fixing their bike, there are countless more who could but may be anxious about what it may cost. A few more case studies and examples may help?


According to Adam Tranter, Founder of the #BikeIsBest campaign, this could be huge untapped market: “We are focussed on the interested but concerned group, which is made up of around 60% of the adult population. These are people that want to cycle for everyday purposes but don’t because of various barriers; the demand is there and it’s huge. It’s this group that represents the single biggest opportunity the cycling industry has had in a generation. However, barriers don’t just disappear. We need to push hard for change and that’s what the campaign is about.”

Joanna Flint from Green Commute Initiative further comments: “GCI is still enjoying a high volume of orders; however, the average order value has come down slightly. This might indicate some caution at the tills. We are noticing an increase in the number of corporate clients signing up which we attribute to organisations pressing ahead with net zero targets as well as helping employees gain access to affordable travel solutions. Without doubt, customers do their initial research online, therefore having an up-to-date website reflecting all payment options is key. Monthly payments options are a must to help win new customers. This is crucial for those on low incomes who are in most need of affordable active travel options as private car ownership becomes unaffordable and reduced, or disrupted, public transport is often unusable.”


Looking at the more mainstream cyclist who might purchase from a national chain, there is again quite a mixed picture on marketing (*at September 2022, the time of our research). Whilst Halfords leads with two very strong cost saving headlines on their homepage, the other five national chains do not. Evans leads with the headline We Are Bike People, supplemented only by a secondary banner header highlighting Cyclescheme. Decathlon and Go-Outdoors simply offer a discount on selected lines. Argos and Sports Direct don’t appear to have any specific messaging around cycle sales with their two standard messages “buying guide” and “shop all bikes” acting as a simple banner or entrance point to their online catalogue.

Of course, every retailer is different and perhaps this is what their customer wants. And of course, marketing plans and budgets are often planned months and years in advance. But it begs the question, is the message appropriate right now? Is it enough? Is the industry (collectively) agile and fleet of foot in a rapidly changing market?


The exercise we’ve conducted is of course quite a blunt instrument, so how might a store or marketing manager sense check their consumers behaviours? As a former web designer and marketing manager, I’m a little out of practice, but my inclination would be start looking here:

No doubt you have historical data about how consumers find your site and what pages they visit. It would be useful to know how many are landing directly on your repairs or monthly payments page, because that’s what they were searching for? Another metric to track might be their journey by price point. Do they arrive because you mentioned a shiny new flagship machine, but after a short while, many jump to a lower price model?

A great thing to understand might be consumer sentiment as they are beginning their purchasing journey. For example, how many start with “Bikefit London” or “Road Bike with 105” as opposed to “Cheap Bike Service London” or “0% finance scheme buy a bike”. The most important thing might be to discover how this has changed and over what time scale.

Social media spend is all about the bang for the buck, what engagement, reach and ultimately spend, do we get back from a given budget. My suspicion is that campaigns planned some time back, especially product launches, may not be achieving the types of metrics that many were aiming for? It might be worth exploring which topics are gaining greater traction. Or perhaps commissioning some content around how bikes save you money in general, money saving tips once you own a bike, repairs and monthly payments?


When I look at the overall message from the industry to the consumer, it doesn’t appear to have changed very much from what we might’ve seen a few years ago or five or ten? Are some of us still feeling like we’re just coming down from the pandemic boom? We thought things might “get back to normal” – hint: that’s not happening any time soon. The cost-of-living crisis, exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, is an entirely new and different phase.

Over and above the switch from one “socio-economic phase” to another, we now have a very sharp and abrupt “right turn” in government policy which is compounding a lack of affordability for the lower income and middle-class consumer, whilst aiming to reward city bankers and the top 5%. Sure, some of our very best and most valued consumers are from this demographic and we might sell a few more eBikes and top-end road machines to them. But there are only so many £5k+ bicycles that the richest 660,000 people in the UK can purchase and store. N +1 has a ceiling, even if you do own three properties.


In short: the economy, society and the pattern of consumer disposable incomes have changed radically and abruptly. The industry’s message does not appear to be matching consumer sentiment, and perhaps it needs to adapt?

The Federation of Small Business had estimated that up to 15% of their membership may not make it through the winter, owing to reduced consumer spending, increased energy costs and supply chain issues. My local health food shop, favourite pub and favourite restaurant have already served notice in the last six weeks owing to energy costs. All these factors also affect bicycle stores. I see no reason why our industry would be immune to these wider pressures within the economy. This in turn makes me anxious how many stores may not survive the winter.

So, whilst of course I recognise that for some stores, individually, their focus might be a specific bike or celebrating a particular demo day right now, that may only be the right strategy for them on a microeconomic basis and perhaps only for a short time. Taken at a macro-economic level, I worry that the industry is not doing enough to drive incremental sales with potential new consumers. This could be through marketing the absolute cost savings of cycling, affordability of repairs and availability of monthly payment schemes more widely.

Solving our consumers financial problems might be the best way to avoid falling victim to our own.

Simonne Stigall

Next Post

Indonesia’s TikTok sellers do roaring trade in hijab, handbags | E-Commerce

Sun Dec 18 , 2022
Bali, Indonesia – Like many in his village, Inggit Pambudi and his wife Mudya Ayu earn a living making and selling headscarves. The couple are part of the thousands of home industries in West Java’s district of Cicalengka, known as “Kampung Hijab”, or “Hijab Village”. Cicalengka specialises in modest wear, a […]
Indonesia’s TikTok sellers do roaring trade in hijab, handbags | E-Commerce

You May Like