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Selling E-Bikes Online, an Eye-Opening Experience Concluding in a BionX Clearance

by Josh Lipton

In 2011 we decided to explore the opportunity of selling electric bicycles and e-bike kits online. It didn’t go well, but we learned quite a bit along the way.

I’m here to tell the tale and while I’m at it announce our 25% off BionX Clearance.As you may already know the business behind this blog, BikeShopHub.com has grown by focusing on selling bike commuting, bike touring and family cycling equipment online. Electric bicycles were interesting to us from the perspective of being a useful upgrade for our commuter and family cycling customers. There was also quite a bit of buzz in the air about electric (pun intended once realized) bicycles at the time.

Getting started into E-bikes involved poking around on the internet, prodding CBB readers about their e-bike emotions and a week of test riding at Interbike.To kick things into gear we decided to bring on 4 different brands of electric bikes along with Ridekick Trailers and BionX e-bike kits.

Meanwhile we continued ramping up our number of thought provoking posts concerning E-bikes here at CommuteByBike.com.We conceptualized and launched the J.O.Y.B.A.G. project, focused on discovering bicycles and accessories that made bicycling as easy an experience as driving a car.

While being electrified was not compulsory to our definition of what mad a bike a J.O.Y.B.A.G. (Jump On Your Bike And Go!) bike, for many cyclists it helps fulfill the J.O.Y.B.A.G. vision in a substantial way.These preparatory efforts were followed by the launch of BikeTechShop.com in the fall of 2011.

BikeTechShop.com was stocked with the aforementioned electric bikes and kits. Tech meant technology (not technician) and we rounded out the shop with other technology gadgetry used on bicycles including bicycle lights, bicycle GPS, smart phone mounts and various sound makers.

The energy that we put into the launch of BikeTechShop.com sustained an air of success during the initial effort. As the initial buzz and attention faded away and we began to have time to see what was really happening in this department, we realized that the opportunity in these products was not proving to be very substantial.There were a variety of circumstances emerging that we had not anticipated:1. We were not able to sell a significant number of E-Bikes through our E-commerce platform.

We concluded that E-bikes were not something that many consumers would buy sight, unseen without a local dealer. Additionally, there was likely less real consumer interest than we had hoped for coupled with a high price point.2. The E-bikes that we did sell online proved to be very expensive to ship. Once the customers received them, they were prone to have many issues that we had to resolve.3.

BionX E-Bike kits while being the single bright spot for online sale, provided quite a few customer service issues for us to figure out an overcome.By 2013 we had decided to clear out E-bikes and reduce the focus just to BionX and Ridekick.On the Ridekick Trailers front, we had done fairly well selling this innovative product. The product was a ground break solution to electrifying bikes by adding a very easy to use assist mechanism that could be quickly installed to any bicycle.

The self-contained system was about one of the most cost-effective ways to add electric assist to a bike while offering the added benefit of cargo capacity.Despite the success that we were seeing selling Ridekick, the fledgling company was struggling to get running smoothly. Towards the end of 2013 the supply of trailers began to dry up and we haven’t been able to get ahold of them since. While it sounds like they will likely have inventory for 2015, the supply issues for 2014 were one more nail-in-the coffin in our experience with offering electric bike products online.

Each time we sold a BionX kit we were excited to make a high dollar sale but wary of the customer service demands that were to follow. For a time it seemed that every other kit that we sold had some issue for us to sort out. And while BionX does make the leading E-Bike kit I think it is fair to say that the squeeky wheel approach is necessary to get decent customer service from BionX.

Two factors made handling BionX customer service substantially more difficult than other products. The first factor was that all warranty issues had to be diagnosed by an authorized BionX dealer. The second factor was that all BionX kits had lithium iIon batteries which are considered HAZMAT for shipping companies and can only be shipped by authorized HAZMAT shippers (something that we quickly became).Having been beat up by the experience of being an online BionX dealer, I finally came to my senses and figured out how we could sanely proceed with offering these products.

First, I realized that we had to begin doing a full test of every BionX kit prior to shipping it. There were a surprising number of kits that were missing parts or had some malfunctioning part. This obvious solution resolved quite a few of the issues we were having.

Second, I realized that I needed to write a detailed explanation of how BionX handled their warranties and what anyone purchasing the product should anticipate especially with the problem of returning lithium ion batteries. I then both published this on the BionX Kit product listings and sent it for verification to any customers who made a purchase.We saw an immediate improvement to our customer service record with BionX once these two changes were instituted.

We were finally content with the experience of offering BionX to our customers.We proceeded through 2014 with BionX as our last grasp on offering electric bikes. The final death knoll came in November when our product liability insurance broker told us that we could save a substantial amount of money if we switched to a different insurance plan. The one catch was that they could not offer coverage if we were selling electric bikes or kits. Running the numbers made the decision simple. The savings that we would gain in the insurance policy was eight times the profit we were making from selling BionX kits.

So we are wrapping up selling electric bikes and kits for the time being. Things may change if our new insurance carrier perks up and can include e-bikes in their policies. Or if there if some major shift in the opportunity for e-bikes shifts, we may go back to our much more expensive provider.There is quite a bit more that could be said about what we learned about E-bikes, perhaps I’ll save that for another post. And we’ll continue to show our support and belief in this important technology.

I still believe electric bikes are coming in a big way to the US, just perhaps not as fast as works for our business.For now we have a few more weeks to clear out our remaining stock of BionX before we turn on our new insurance policy. If you are looking at a BionX kit, I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to find a better pice than what we’ve got going on now.

 
BOB Trailer x 2

7 Responses to “Selling E-Bikes Online, an Eye-Opening Experience Concluding in a BionX Clearance”

  1. JohnnyK says:

    I tried to stay out of this whole E-Bike debate as much as possible but to be honest I hate this trend. I honestly don’t want E-Bikes or any motorized vehicle in the bike lane. I think if it is motorized it should be in a motorized vehicle lane. Another thing too why bother with these things just get a motor-scooter. These cost as much as a motor-scooter anyway. I wonder if there is a way to disable them from a far? I find them annoying and I would not call the people riding them cyclist. I would call them motor-cyclist (aka lazy). It would be different if it was older people, or people carrying heavy loads using them but for the most part it’s just lazy people with no idea what it means to be a cyclist in the first place. I definitely don’t want to see them on the non-motorized trails or anywhere that human vehicles are allowed. Cyclist have enough trouble as it is without having to put up with some rich kid on a motor-bike buzzing us riding in the wrong direction in a bike lane because they have no clue and don’t care.

  2. Josh Lipton says:

    I forgot to mention how we learned about an interesting version of internet troll and got to hear from a representative of their coalition whenever we posted about electric bikes. It is surprising how much vitriol some cycling purists have towards e-bikes. So much hatred for something that is positive in our world. When will the trolls troll something truly worth trolling? But then I guess they wouldn’t be trolls.

  3. listenermark says:

    Well played.

  4. sc says:

    I really hate snobs like johnnyk. Most of the laws keep motorized bikes at around 20mph, thats is not a threat to non motor bikes. Most bikes with motors are no wider than the regular bikes. Scooters are subject to laws that bikes are not, and you dont get the exercise.

  5. Ted Johnson says:

    Somehow this reminds me of ancient history, when privately-owned skateparks would only be insured by Lloyd’s of London — no other insurance company would touch skateparks.

    The idea that a municipality would build a public skatepark would have been crazy talk. Yet, law caught up with the movement, and there are skateparks everywhere shielded with only “Use at Your Own Risk” signs.

    I want to believe that whatever overblown fear is behind this insurance issue will one day look silly in retrospect, and the retail economics will shift back to profitability.

  6. JIm Wallace says:

    Johnny K… I used my electric bike when I had hip problems and continued to ride it after a hip replacement. It’s nice when you need to make a quick trip. For example: I rode 9 extra miles one one day just to save a buck on wine. You can also really bundle up for cold weather riding.

    I have 9 other bicycles I ride at for various reasons such as recumbents for cross country rides.

    As far as not being a real cyclist don’t jump to conclusions. I’ve been on 4 bike tours over 2,000 miles and one over 4,000 miles–Sea Side, OR to St. Augustine, FL. I’m part owner of a pedicab company and rode pedicabs until my hip gave out. I missed 5 days of riding last year.

  7. superkaos says:

    Another unfortunate consequence of segregating vehicles by type!!! And the list goes on and on…. Just shows how idiotic bicycle lanes are.
    Some idiot will now say that all they need are electric bicycle lanes!!!

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