Search vs stock levels: are online retailers coping?

Physical retail trends of recent years relating to bike stocks have generally taken a breather as shops reassess the most profitable use of floor space, but what’s happening with online retailers? Andy Isenman once again puts his algorithms to work to spot the trends…

Road Bikes

The chart linked here shows the volume of searches made to the top search engines where Road Bike was the search term. The data shows that for the last five years the search term is seasonal. The chart shows that the use of the term does increase in 2020 in line with the pandemic demand, however the forecasting model indicates that a normal pattern will continue 2020 and beyond. A significant caveat to the near term is of course the global supply chain getting back on track, which in the very near term looks unlikely; this applies to all graphs shown here.

We can now look at the online retailer data. As you can see in figure two the online retailers had been reducing the number of complete road bikes on offer. There is an increase in March 2020 as the pandemic hits. What is interesting is that the reduction in product lines offered starts to decrease before the pandemic, indicating that this trend may have occurred regardless of stock shortages experienced due to the pandemic and has continued to fall  through 2020 with a slight stabilisation in 2021.

These charts when considered next to each other show that Road bike interest is broadly static, with online retailers matching that demand with a smaller range of options.

Mountain Bikes

Graph three shows search data for mountain bikes. As you can see, a similar seasonal trend can be seen with mountain bikes which were increasing in popularity from 2017 and have a seasonal nature. You can see an uptick in the use of the search term at the beginning of the pandemic indicated by the black dots at the top of the chart. The model predicts that the search term will be used consistently into 2022 and beyond.

If we now look at the data round how many mountain bikes are stocked, we can see that unlike road bikes the online retailers initially expanded their ranges from 2018 through to March 2020 when the pandemic hit. There is a rapid decline during the pandemic probably caused by the severe stock shortages experienced by the industry. We then see the online retailers widen their stock choices through autumn and winter followed by a downturn in choice at the beginning of March. The model has then correctly predicted the shortage in mountain bikes in the UK through the 2021 summer period.

Cyclocross Bikes

If we apply the same method on Cyclocross and plot the popularity of cyclocross bike as a search term in figure five. Cyclocross bikes do not experience the seasonal variability that we see in the road and mountain bike market. There is also a consistent downward trend in the search terms use and as such the popularity of this discipline. Notably there is a much smaller spike during the pandemic as we see with road and mountain.

If we then look at Figure six we can see that the choice of bikes being offered by the online retailers is disconnected from the search term trends. We see a higher range of bikes being offered in 2019 and that choice then diminish before the pandemic took effect in March 2020. There is a small increase in choice during the pandemic with the prediction that Cyclocross bike choice may rise in the future.

Gravel Bikes

Finally, we look at gravel bikes through the same lens. In figure seven we can see the steady rise in popularity of the gravel bike search term. This is unsurprising as this new form of bike grows in popularity.

We see the usual spike during 2020 due to the pandemic, and the model predicts that popularity will continue to rise at the same rate. Gravel bikes, like Cyclocross do not experience the same level of seasonal variation. If we take a look at the chart for Gravel bikes, we can see that the term really only came into effect in late 2018 and the choice of bikes rose steeply until spring 2020.

There is a sharp drop off at the pandemic hits, likely to be caused by demand outstripping supply. The choice stabilises around August 2020 and a slight increase can be seen through to mid-2021. The model does predict a new fall in choice but the explanation for this is more likely to be the model anticipating another 50% drop in choice rather than any likelihood of that drop materialising.


Overall, the choice of complete bikes on offer by online retailers has fallen since 2018, with only mountain bikes predicted to beat this trend.

The pandemic has impacted the choice for all types of bikes with gravel bikes being impacted the most with an almost 50% reduction in choice. If viewed through the use of search terms by the major UK search engine providers, the popularity of road and mountain will remain both seasonal and broadly stable. The popularity of cyclocross will fall but no seasonality will come into play. Gravel bikes are predicted to gain popularity through to 2022 and with availability still a massive challenge within the industry Gravel bike choice could become an important differentiator.

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