Opinion: How data sharing might be the key to helping the cycling industry swim not sink

Ed Willis, Sports Marketing Surveys

Roger H. Lincoln wrote that “There are two rules for success. 1: Never tell everything you know”.

Lincoln’s is an amusing quotation, but is it actually good advice? Google the author and you will mostly find two things. The first is the quote I have just shared with you, the second is searches for “who is Roger H. Lincoln?”

If his maxim is as sage as it is pithy, why isn’t its author plastered over the internet in glory? With the greatest respect to our friend Roger, might it not be bad advice? Could it actually be the case that more sharing is exactly what the cycling industry needs?

To say that the cycling industry is short on accurate sell through and sales performance data is akin to saying that the Titanic sank just ‘short’ of its destination. It is an understatement of the first water.

In its introduction to the Great Britain section of its annual European cycling market report, CONEBI caveats that “the UK has no quantified source of information on annual retail sales of bikes, parts, accessories or clothing, either in terms of units or value.”

Contrast this with other major cycling markets and the gulf becomes clear, with most of the UK’s European cousins able to track, with some degree of accuracy, the ebb and flow of different categories in the cycling industry in both volume and value terms.

This kind of information, when robustly collected and astutely analysed, can become a buoyancy aid for the entire cycling trade, allowing federations and groups to take firm cases to government or industry when appealing for favourable laws or outside investment. It allows retailers to contextualise their performance against national trends, identify strong performing brands or categories and adapt accordingly. The same information allows brands to keep track on what products consumers and retailers are choosing and understand where future growth might evolve. In short, it can allow everyone to observe consumer demand and the state of the industry from the perspective of a panorama rather than a porthole.

This is the kind of information on which marketers and managers in other industries rely. For example, industries such as FMCG, retail or automobile have historically been particularly prolific and proactive users of data to track and improve their marketing activities. Now as techniques and technologies advance and the size of data pools grows, the complexity and applicability of data continues to increase, leading to new insights, faster harnessing of new opportunities in different categories and better long-term strategic planning.

These kinds of techniques are making it easier and more cost effective to share better data for the good of all sides of the industry, whether that be through monitoring shipments sold into market from brands, or sell through data at retail level.

However, the practice of sharing goes beyond actually reaching out to others in the industry with advice or questions. Sharing is a mindset and an instinct as much as it is a matter of data transfer and aggregation. Thinking not just out-of-the-box, but about how other people are operating is crucial to the future of the cycling industry.

Cycling buyers have been slightly slower to turn online than buyers of less expensive, more regular items. However, the flow is monodirectional, and as shoppers move online there are lessons for cycling to learn from other industries. For bricks and mortar stores this might mean thinking about new ways to think about getting cyclists through the door by offering services and service that online stores cannot match. As other industries are finding, shopping will need to become an experience, and shops a destination if retailers wish to draw people away from online.

At the most simplistic level this might mean offering, for example, a range of bicycles to test. Our International Cycling Behaviour study suggests that the ability to test ride a bike prior to buying is the single most likely factor to convince a customer to buy an alternative brand of bike. This may also be important in convincing people to choose new types of bikes. As e-Bike adoption advances for example, putting someone on an demo unit may become the best way to prove the value in what is an expensive purchase. Offering in-demand products that are not available online is another simple technique which may help retailers to stand out. Likewise, offering to improve the purchase decision process can be a powerful pull. Take running stores, many of which have installed treadmill and gait analysis to improve outcomes for buyers and draw people back to physical stores.

Bricks and mortar retailers may not be able to compete with online outlets on average prices, but they may be able to identify goods, price match these online and advertise the fact that their store is cheaper, or as cheap on certain named products. Certain retailers in the technology industry for example, are already monitoring competitor prices to prove to customers that products cannot be bought more cheaply online. If this means lowering prices on certain products, then the same retailers hope to neutralise the impact by selling more ancillary services, like repairs, or coffee. Cycling shops have an obvious and beneficial service here – workshop repairs.

Defying Roger H. Lincoln and sharing means both learning from examples in the shared world and also sharing insight, advice and data. The rising tide might just lift all boats.

SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. (SMS INC.), offers detailed reports on cycling and is also available to discuss bespoke projects. SMS INC. is a full-service market research company serving the sport and leisure industry. Please contact Edward Willis at ed.willis@sportsmarketingsurveysinc.com for more information.