Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Anything but black
Gill Harrison from UK sustainable transport charity Sustrans, wonders if the bike trade needs to re-think how it sells to women
Barriers to women riding
In the UK a staggering 79% of women never ride. As well as concerns ranging from traffic to the weather, women are also finding the whole bike retail experience is a bit of a turn-off. But if the bike trade wants to sell to women are they missing a trick? And if women buy bikes based on colour – as owner of Her Gear, London’s women-only bike shop, Stephen Peters suggests – then why do most bikes come in grey, black or silver?
Perhaps bicycle retailers could learn some lessons about selling to women from other male-dominated sectors. Studies show that women have the final say on the vast majority of car purchases. The car industry has taken this on board and uses every means it can to speak to those women. They are employing female sales staff and, importantly, selling cars in an aspirational and motivational way.
Women rate bike shops
But for many women I suspect the layout and products on offer in most bike shops just wouldn’t be enough to get them interested. And when we asked women to ‘mystery shop’ their local bike store some of my suspicions were confirmed. Over 600 women shared their experiences with us – with some pleasant surprises, a few doubts confirmed and some fascinating insights gained.
The good news is that two thirds of our shoppers had a positive experience. However, beneath the surface are niggles that Sustrans suggests could be easily addressed – to the benefit of the bicycle trade and their customers, existing and potential.
Our mystery shoppers ranged from eight to 88 years of age, and from beginners to women who ride every day. Generally the new riders are happy with the service they are getting; it’s the experienced ones that are feeling short-changed. Beginners reported understanding, helpful and friendly staff but experienced riders are left feeling patronised – the assumption appearing to be that most women know nothing about bikes. They were left feeling that a bike shop was akin to an alien landscape – with them treated as the alien!
The bike industry needs to wake up
One thing all agreed on was that the products and shop displays do little to help the would-be buyer. “Ignore the window display,” advised one woman, who found – like many others – that once through the doors she was welcomed by helpful and friendly staff. The products, unfortunately, also fail to impress. Like the original Model T Ford “any colour as long as it’s black” seems to be the byword of the bike trade. But while women don’t necessarily want everything covered in daisies there’s 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?!” cries one regular rider.
It’s time for the bike trade to review what and how it sells to women. From employing staff who are able to engage with customers of all abilities, to stocking clothes for larger women, there are a hundred and one options to explore. And in an age where appearance and image is all if it brings in business and gets more women riding, it might be time for the industry to get a bit of colour into its life – so please, anything but black!
This article was first published in Ride On magazine October-November 2009