Consumer demand is what drives the U.S. market for goods and services. The 2020 surge in sales of bicycles (including e-bikes) that some in the media are calling a “Bike Boom,” was the American consumer demanding and purchasing bicycle products in greater numbers than the business has experienced in two decades.
The demand for service work (as opposed to services like restaurants, vacation destinations, theme parks, entertainment venues, air travel, etc.) also surged to new levels, as American consumers seemed to take every available bicycle they could find in their basements, attics, and garages, to bike shops to get them serviced into riding condition.
Bike shops ran out of new bicycles to sell and ran short, or out of, components to repair the bicycles brought in for service, just as other retail channels large and small experienced shortages, outages, and an overall inability to meet and satisfy consumer demand for goods as they shifted from services. Bottlenecks and disruption in the supply chain created further delays.
American consumers, like consumers all over the world, also shifted their shopping and purchasing of goods online because they did not want to go out into stores and run the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Given the pandemic-induced market disruptions in 2020, annual U.S. bicycle riding participation is a vital component in defining and better understanding the U.S. bicycle market demand.
The National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) has consistently used the same research methodology to conduct its annual consumer survey of sports participation, which includes bicycle riding participation, for over three decades.
Because the same research methodology has been adhered to for such an extended period of time, the data is stable and comparable, even in a pandemic and more importantly is reliable for trend analysis. The following is presented, in detail in the NBDA U.S. Bicycle Market Overview 2020 Report that can be purchased at www.nbda.com.
43 million Americans seven years of age and older rode bicycles six or more days during the year 2020. For those following the NBDA annual report, this is a substantial increase of 5.2 million or 14 percent in the number of bicycle riding participants compared to 2019.
NSGA will publish its 2021 bicycle riding participation data in early April and the NBDA U.S. Bicycle Market Overview 2021 Report will be available, including 22 years of U.S. bicycle riding participation data, by the end of April.
The NSGA bicycle riding participation data for 2020 confirms that the surge in sales of bicycles (including e-bikes) was driven by the increase of 5.2 million Americans seven years of age and older who rode bicycles six or more days during the year, contributing a 14 percent increase in bicycle riding to the overall demand for product and service in 2020 over 2019.
In November of 2021, the NBDA Bicycle Buying Consumer Research Study concluded its field work, and the sponsor reports and first editions of the 150 Powerpoint slide supplier report were made available for sale Christmas week.
The first version of the retailer report became available for sale January 6, and the second version on February 4. All versions of this landmark consumer research reported:
- 53 percent of adult cyclists purchased a bicycle (including an e-bike) in 2020, meaning 47 percent did not.
- 39 percent of adult cyclists purchased a bicycle (including an e-bike) in 2021, meaning 61 percent did not.
The purchase to non-purchase ratio among adult cyclists in 2021 corresponded to reports from the field during the fourth quarter of the year that retail store traffic and corresponding sales were declining, as was demand for service work.
To investigate this further, Human Powered Solutions (HPS) looked at a number of sources of data, including, as a member, the PeopleForBikes (PFB) Business Intelligence Hub. One of the data sets is the Google Search Index from Google Trends searches for any combination of the phrase “buy bike.” Google Trends is a tool to analyze the popularity, and change of popularity, of search terms to compare the search volume of different queries over time.
PFB presents the Google Search Index as: “A near real time leading indicator” because it is a record of consumer searches, in this case any combination of the phrase “buy bike.”
Given the need to understand the recent store traffic and sales decline, we determined to dig deeper into the Google Search Index and Google Trends as real time leading market indicators as identified by PFB, and contacted the HPS webmaster, Jacob Rheuban, seeking his opinion.
HPS considers Jacob to be an expert on the subject because in addition to a bachelor’s in economics and a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, he founded his first e-commerce company in 1998 and is the founder and CEO of Prevelo Bikes, a consumer-direct youth bike brand. Accordingly, he has demonstrated that he knows a lot (at least more than we do) about search engines.
The first thing we learned is “buy bicycle” is an uncommon search term for our purposes because the data is or can be volatile. To give us some perspective Jacob ran a series of sample searches.
What we determined, is the Google search term “bicycle” yielded the least volatile and, we believe, more accurate leading indicator, as shown in Chart A below. The graph shows the results for the search term “bicycle” January 15, 2017 to August 31, 2021, a five-year period through the end of the second quarter of 2021. The market pattern per-pandemic, along with the sales surge of 2020, is clearly shown, along with the sales decline in 2021.
Chart B shows the search term “bicycle” vs. the search term “e-bike” for four years from January 2018 through December 2021. Beginning about the second quarter of 2021, consumer searches shifted significantly from the term “bicycle” to the term “e-bike.”
Jacob reminded us that someone looking at this chart could conclude that in absolute terms interest in “bicycle” is now less than interest in “e-bike.” What this chart says is that relative to the beginning of 2020, searches, which is interpreted as interest in e-bikes, has grown while searches, as interpreted as interest in bicycles, has declined.
This is an indicator of relative interest through searches that need to be verified to the extent possible by asking consumers, as the NBDA has done.
This leading indicator of consumer searches points to increasing interest in and the possibility of shifting demand away from “bicycles” and toward “e-bikes” during the time frame charted.
Chart C is another step in digging into the leading indicator identified in Chart B. Jacob suggested we create a basket of 10 bike shop brands and a basket of 10 direct to consumer brands (DTC), and compare the average trend lines, which is what this chart shows.
Remember that this is not absolute, but as consumer interest, in the form of searches, shifted from the term “bicycles” to the term “e-bike,” so did consumer interest, in the form of searches, shift from the average of our basket of 10 bike shop brands to the average of our basket of 10 DTC brands.
The leading-edge indicator is apparent consumer interest, in the form of searches, shifting from “regular” bicycles to e-bikes, and from traditional bike shop brands to DTC retailers, with overall consumer demand ebbing.
While brands should be paying attention, bike shops are advised to take action to adjust strategic and business plans to accelerate development of omnichannel merchandising with a commerce-enabled website, social media presence, and an expanded offering of e-bikes integrated into all product categories and price ranges.
Do not expand your SKU count. Rather, consolidate with e-bike models integrated into your merchandise offerings, and replace regular bicycles with e-bikes, paying attention to retail price points and your gross profit margins.
Pay particular attention to new, emerging e-bike product categories being marketed by DTC brands (as an example, the so called “BMX” 20 and 24-inch fat-tire e-bikes).
Watch inventory levels carefully, and monitor KPI’s like gross margin return on inventory (GMROI), inventory turns and net profit per category and SKU weekly.
If any readers have questions, please contact me and I will do my best to help you: Jay Townley, resident futurist, Human Powered Solutions: firstname.lastname@example.org