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Are women cyclists being served?

Retail experience needs to improve say women

With various schemes taking place everywhere to try and get people onto their bikes it would appear that, when it comes to getting women on their bikes at least, the main thing that needs to change is the retail experience.

Sustainable transport charity Sustrans carried out a recent mystery shopper exercise which revealed a new approach by the bike trade to the retail experience is what’s needed.

While the majority of the 633 women who took part in the survey reported a positive experience in the shops they visited, the range of products on offer, and the way they are presented is sending women straight out of the door, and for some, straight online.

Sustrans’ mystery shoppers ranged from eight to 88 with all levels of experience from complete beginners to women who cycle every day. And while the new cyclists are generally happy with the service they are getting, it’s the experienced cyclists that are feeling short-changed.

Beginners reported understanding, helpful and friendly staff with new cyclists just as likely to shop from smaller retailers than from the chain stores. But the experienced riders were not so impressed according to Melissa Henry, Sustrans’ Communications Director.

“We found that experienced cyclists, those women who know what they do and don’t want, are left feeling patronised - the assumption appearing to be that women know nothing about bikes. Experienced cyclists of all ages were left feeling that a bike shop was akin to an alien landscape, with them as the alien.”

One thing all agreed on was that the products on offer, and the way they are displayed do nothing to help the would-be buyer. “Ignore the window display” was the advice of one regular cyclist. The products also fail to impress, with black and chrome dominating, and while women don’t necessarily want everything covered in daisies there was a real strength of feeling that what’s needed is a bit of colour, style and the right fit - “We are different shapes or have they not noticed,” cried one regular cyclist.

Melissa Henry added: “In an age where women have significant purchasing influence, and power, perhaps the bike trade could think again about what, and how, it sells to this huge potential customer base?”

Claire Beaumont of Evans Cycles was interested to see the survey and said: “Without a doubt the cycle industry has historically been male dominated but it's changing, albeit still catching up in many respects. Two years ago we found it difficult to employ any women shop staff - they were nowhere to be found, now though we have more than 100 ladies working within the stores and key head office roles.

“Demand is strong with many core women's specific lines selling out early and the incoming 2010 range of women-specific bikes and clothing is looking even stronger"

Director of ActSmart Mark Brown said: “I don’t agree that bike shops are the main reason women do not cycle more. I think there are a number of factors, bike shops are one of them but I think it’s more to do with the perception of safety and access to the right products. I think what the research does show is that bike shops do need to become better at serving women. Most bike shops are used to dealing with white middle class men.


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OldRidgeback | 14 years ago

Hmm, I'd say sales staff can be patronising on occasion, no matter whether the customer is male of female.

Jon Burrage | 14 years ago

My girlfriend has had those experiences too. She may not be a serious cyclist, yet, but as she lives with a cycling addict she does pretty much know what she wants so being shown toward a 'pretty' bike (the salesmans words) doesnt fill her with confidence that it is the best bike for her.

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