Posted on September 22, 2017

This month, SMS INC.’s  Ed Willis featured in Cycling Industry News‘s Q4 trade journal, discussing selling bikes to men and women; and the way to go about it. Please get in contact if you have any questions about the article, or the research discussed.

Selling to men and women

One of the classic dilemmas facing any sporting retailer is working out how to tailor its offering to its client base. In particular, many retailers struggle with working out how to sell different products to men and women, without marginalising one or the other. As a google employee recently found out to his cost, overstating the difference between men and women can be disastrous. For a bike retailer though, is there also a risk in understating, or at least failing to provide for, the needs of different sectors of the population.

Perhaps the biggest difference between men and women is in how they wish to use their bikes, or, to be more specific, who they wish to cycle with. A high proportion of the men we surveyed preferred to cycle alone. By contrast, women were much more likely to say that they cycle specifically in order to spend time with a partner or with their children. This was true across multiple markets. However, and this is the crucial part, that does not mean that bike shops should be making assumptions. For manufacturers, it is important to know the overall picture in order to make sure that product ranges reflect the wants and needs of cyclists. Your shop on the other hand, may attract a very different crowd from the national average.

In fact, for many cycling shops there are major risks in differentiating too overtly between men and women. The age of ‘pink it and shrink it’ selling is mercifully over. Push too far with hackneyed tactics and female customers may find themselves becoming suspicious of over-targeted sales, fearing perhaps that they are either paying over the odds, or being sold lower spec products. In many ways, the cycling industry is a victim of the wider retail industry’s past transgressions here. Traditionally so many women’s products are based on men’s with just a colour change and a higher price, known as the ‘pink tax’, to differentiate them from the original. Self-defeating and downright unnecessarily gendered products like Bic’s female pens have spawned scepticism of women’s products as well as internet mockery (if you have never seen them, the amazon reviews of Bic for her pens are almost an art gallery in their own right).

In this climate, female bike buyers may instantly switch off if they fear that a product has been retrofitted for women rather than developed with them in mind. It was telling that despite the pronounced differences in who men and women prefer to ride with, the same research showed little difference between men and women when it comes to interest in competing in events. Importantly the results suggest that although just under two thirds of females invest in women’s specific models, those women who class themselves as competitive are much more likely to buy products designed specifically for women than those who commute by bike.

Selling to women on the basis of aesthetics and assuming that a sales process can skirt over performance, will not work in the long term. This is why brands like Liv have invested heavily in portraying the brand not just as colourful bikes for girls but as bikes for daring, empowered and free-spirited women. Working with manufacturers’ themes, and harnessing them with your own shop’s identify can become a powerful combination. In this way, shops stocking women’s specific equipment may have much to gain, provided that they can identify the right audiences for these products and successfully communicate the benefits for the cyclists in question.

For committed female cyclists a female specific product may well be the right performance choice, but selling it will require store staff to be able to talk about the differences, whether these are focused on touch point tweaks or are more wholesale. If your staff feel that a men’s bike might inhibit a female cyclist, then don’t be afraid to tell her about the benefits to her of thinner handlebars, or less tailored saddles. At the same time if they feel that a certain customer would be better served by a male frame which is available at a better price, then telling a client so can only build loyalty to your shop. Getting this right means engaging with differences and similarities between your male and female clients right the way through the retail process. When making stock decisions, decide if a women’s product is going to deliver for your customers, and if the price is fair given its spec. Every stocking decision is either building or damaging your brand. Likewise when considering a store layout, think about what your floorplan says about your store’s priorities and values. If you test different store layouts or promotions, keep track of how this affects sales, and measure what the impact has been year on year.

As shops test different ideas, it is important to take the chance to build up a picture of customers as they come to your shop. Make notes on conversations you have had with customers. Over time patterns may emerge that reveal something about your particular clientele that you hadn’t realised.

Really, this process is not about whether cyclists are male or female, but about how people want to ride their bikes. The joy of the saddle is something that should unite men and women, old and young, rich and poor. Understanding your customer and tailoring your sales process accordingly, is a much better solution than making assumptions.


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