Black Friday discounts, festive deals and New Years’ sales have kept retailers and shoppers alike busy over the last few months, but at what cost? CI.N takes stock with Apidura founder Tori Fahey who warns the cycle industry is stuck in a never-ending cycle of discounting…
You’ve been outspoken on discounting in the past, why is it such an important issue for you?
One of the most enjoyable parts of the cycling experience is being outside and close to nature. So, like many other cyclists, I have a keen interest in the well being of the natural places around me and environmental sustainability. Discounting is one of the primary tools businesses use to push impulse purchases, and so it acts as fuel for the hyper-consumerist culture that is having devastating effects on the world around us.
Frankly, we consume (and waste) far more than we need to. My experience living and travelling on a bike for extended periods with only what I could carry has reinforced for me just how little ‘stuff’ we actually need, compared to the amount we’re encouraged to own in our everyday lives.
This is something that we were acutely aware of founding Apidura; taking our responsibility as a producer very seriously, to avoid becoming part of the problem. Accordingly, we founded Apidura on three core principles: designing products that add value; not pushing impulse consumption through discounts and sales; and we reject engineered obsolescence – we don’t do ‘seasons’ and we encourage repairs both by customers and ourselves.
And for the bicycle industry generally?
Typically, the customers that retailers acquire by discounting tend to be transient. They bought the product because it was cheap, not because they truly wanted it. The short-term sales boost created by discounting can be a distraction from more powerful (and financially sustainable) tools, like community building, leading to longer-term problems when retailers realise they’ve become stuck in a never-ending cycle of discounting.
This discounting cycle leads to a decline in product quality and low prices encourage impulse buying, both of which are bad for the environment and bad for business.
Do you think ‘discount culture’ is a contributing factor to the growing number of bike shop closures in recent years?
I think it’s fair to say that discounting has played a meaningful role. However, discounting is just one factor in a larger shift in culture, purchasing behaviour and consumer expectations. For bike shops, discounting has been a rational near-term response to survive in the face of disruption in the commerce landscape. But it’s a short-term fix that avoids the underlying issue.
Consumers are not switching to online purchasing only to save a few bucks, and selling commoditised products is not the only value that bike shops bring to the community. Bike shops are a critical part of the ecosystem and play a very important role in building and serving the cycling community.
Most local bike shops simply cannot (and should not try to) compete on cost alone. To thrive, they will need to find other ways to create value and serve their community. There are a lot of shops already in this mindset and you can see the niche they’ve carved out within their communities.
Is impulse-led buying becoming a significant issue for the cycle industry, and are certain retailers taking advantage of this trend?
We all ride bikes because of the experience and the feelings it gives us; however, the revenue-growth driven industry we are part of is sometimes at odds with this. The messages most riders receive are along the lines of, “In order to ride X then you need to get yourself a Y’. This has made for some great advances in bikes, tech and gear over the years, but isn’t the reality that we all know; the best bike for the job is normally the one you already have.
When you ask any committed rider for their suggestion on what to buy, they nearly always say something experienced-based; coaching, racing, a bike-specific trip. This is the real reason why we do this, we’ve just all got a little lost in believing that it’s the products we buy that facilitate them, when it’s really just our willingness to turn the pedals.
You mentioned in a recent blog post about the environmental impact discounting has, can you expand on that?
Aggressive discounting means companies either need to artificially inflate prices to accommodate for the fact the product will always be sold for less, or cut corners on design, quality, or environmental and social standards. The never-ending cycle of sales means companies can’t afford to spend as long or as much money investing in new designs, and so the quality of their products declines; leading to further price drops as they struggle to sell inferior goods.
The environmental impact is two-fold. Firstly, to reduce up-front costs companies resort to cheaper materials and cheaper labour. Lower costs come through cutting corners on environmental standards and business practices at their suppliers. Secondly, lower quality goods typically have shorter usable lifespans, meaning products end up in landfill sooner.
Inferior products are also typically harder to repair, or aren’t worth the cost of repairing, which compounds the issue as consumers focus on replacing goods, which is far more damaging for the environment.
Who do you hold responsible for this ‘discount culture’?
Unpicking where discount culture got out of hand is incredibly complex and it’s better to look to the future than get stuck in the past. The reality is that everyone plays and has played a role. We encourage everyone – retailers, brands and consumers – to shift their mindset and focus on high quality products and considered purchases.
We’ve all been conditioned to expect discounts and need to wean ourselves off our impulse purchase addiction. Alongside discounting, we need to consider the damage of other common ‘value adds’ like free shipping and returns – a mindset that ignores the impact of packaging and the hydrocarbons involved in sending our unconsidered purchases needlessly joyriding around the world. Similarly, years of low-cost, low-quality products and aggressive marketing have led to a prevailing mindset of ‘replace’ rather than ‘repair’, which needs to be overturned.
What is Apidura doing to dispel and discourage unnecessary discounting in the cycle industry?
We work closely with like-minded bike shops around the world to cultivate and grow the bikepacking community by considering our role beyond designing and producing a physical product. We support stores that compete through building communities, such as through creating cycling caps from up-cycled materials at Schicke Mütze, always having every product in stock at Commuter Cycles, or taking ownership of a niche and finding great products not stocked elsewhere at Keep Pedalling. We involved them in our initiatives, such as the in-store repairs programme in Europe this winter.
We believe passionately in being a good corporate citizen, so we’re constantly engaging with partners, customers and industry friends to identify ways to improve our industry and inspire others to join us on this journey. We’re always keen to engage with anyone – be they retailer, brand or consumer – working to improve the industry.
The more of us that come on this journey together, the more answers we’ll be able to find.