Fall is officially underway, and for many bike shops that means a little less foot traffic, seasonal product shifts, and some much needed time to breathe and analyze how the spring and summer seasons went.
This past April we released our 2023 Bicycle Industry Revenue Forecast, a report that measured search demand and website traffic in order to forecast how the bike industry might shape up in 2023. We’ve been doing digital marketing for bike shops across the US and Canada for years, and it was something we wanted to do in order to give our bike shop clients better market insights. At the end of our research we estimated that the bike industry at large could see a 15-20% drop in revenue from 2022, with local bike shops likely getting hit even harder. An update to those search trends shows that demand was in fact lower through the summer high season, but not as bad as we thought it might be. (Read our review of how spring and summer actually have gone here.)
That brings us to today, where we aim to put the state of the industry up in the stand again in order to help retailers examine how things have panned out and what’s coming next.
In keeping with one of our mantras here at Two Octobers, before I began my research I started by asking questions. Here’s what I set out to answer:
- How much does search demand typically drop in the shoulder seasons and off seasons?
- How is demand tracking for categories that are typically important for Q4 and Q1 revenue?
- What categories have continued to increase in demand since the 2020 bike boom?
- Which bike brands are improving in search popularity?
- What might demand be like this fall and winter?
With those questions in mind, I started diving into search interest trends for bikes, bike shops, brands, and categories using keyword and topical research tools.
Let’s break down the numbers.
The first area I wanted to understand better was how much search demand drops in the off season. Sure, we all know sales generally slow down when the weather is less ideal for riding, but I wanted to be able to show our dealers the search demand trends so they could compare them to their own sales figures.
To get the metrics below, I used Google Trends to measure search interest for the fall and winter seasons, then compared that to the previous spring and summer for the last four years. I chose to use the official calendar seasonal dates here, which put the spring and summer season as the 3rd week of March to the 3rd week of September. I then calculated the average off-season drop in search demand for the past four years, then averaged those drops together to create a ballpark figure. A final thing to note is that I measured different “topics” in Google Trends, which include any searches that Google deems related to that topic. So for example the “bike” topic includes all searches related to bikes.
Let’s look at the topics and categories and see how much search demand typically drops in the off season.
|Topic||Average off season search demand drop|
While the all encompassing topic of bikes dropped an average of 29% in the off season, searches for bike shops were down a considerable amount more.
Electric bikes, gravel bikes, and kids’ bikes appear to be some of the more resilient categories, but it’s important to know that this data is from the entire US taken together and compared to dates that don’t mean the same thing to all retailers. There’s quite a bit of variation in what “the season” means to shops across the US and Canada, as one shop’s slow season could be another shop’s fat bike frenzy.
As another bit of housekeeping, I should mention that the drop off directly following the first pandemic spring and summer was typically higher than drop offs in other years, but not by so much that the averages shown above are heavily skewed.
Q4 is an important part of every bike shop’s year. The change in the weather combined with Black Friday and the holiday season typically gives certain products a nice little boost before the new calendar year. It’s a chance to move some product and make some money before things slow down even further.
I wanted to see how some of those products were tracking from a search interest perspective so far this year in order to provide some insight into whether they might be on track to compete with last year’s sales
I reviewed sales data for several of our bike shop clients to see what product categories typically see an uplift in Q4. I also heard directly from some of those shop owners regarding which products to focus on. I went back to Google Trends and measured the search demand for the following products, comparing September of this year to September of last year.
|Product topic||September 2023 YoY|
It’s no surprise to see kids’ bikes on this list. When I worked in a bike shop I always preferred to sell kids’ bikes when the young riders could actually try them out, but we have all sold our fair share of them sight unseen as Christmas presents with fingers crossed that we wouldn’t see them again in a few weeks. Since search demand for kids’ bikes was up 12% this September YoY, it appears that we could potentially see a better Q4 for that category.
However, the rest of the products we examined didn’t paint as positive a picture. For example, bike trainers have yet to ascend to their previously successful heights and the data doesn’t support a big comeback as of now. It’s still early and a lot could change in the next couple months, but this quick spot check makes me want to advise shop owners to continue to be smart with inventory.
In our April report we saw that electric bikes have been continually growing in search demand while most other categories slumped to a mere fraction of their pandemic search interest.
Let’s find more of those upward trending categories! It’s exciting to see that there are still a few notable categories that have continued to grow.
|Category||Spring & Summer YoY||Since 2020|
Retailers should definitely keep tabs on these categories and work them into their inventory where possible. Year over year growth hasn’t been massive for these categories, but search interest for them has come a long way since the initial bike boom.
And yes, I know that bikepacking isn’t a bike category, but at the very least it represents a whole line of products and accessories that might be able to benefit from the added search interest. Plus, it’s one of my favorite hobbies and I couldn’t resist checking. 😉
In the final section of this report I’ll be taking a look at bike brands. I’ve found retailers enjoyed seeing this breakdown of popular manufacturers in our last report, so even though it likely won’t change anyone’s fall and winter strategy, I’ve included it here so we can all keep tabs on the landscape at large.
Like the April report, I compiled a list of over 100 bike brands and used Google Keyword Planner to pull data for average monthly search volume and YoY change for similar bike brand related keywords in the US. I used “[brand] [bikes]” as my keyword structure again to ensure the searches were related to bikes instead of topics that could be accidentally collected by only using brand names. We’re dealing with specific search terms in this example instead of Google Trends topics, so keep in mind that these Google estimates are only for the exact phrase and may not be completely representative of all terms related to that brand.
Here’s the list of the bike brands that have seen the biggest increase in search volume from last year. I limited the results to brands that had search volumes of 1,000 searches per month or more.
|Keyword||Avg. monthly searches||YoY change|
|all city bikes||8,100||123%|
|co op bikes||5,400||23%|
And here’s the list of the 34 most searched for bike brands out of the sample I worked with, regardless of their year over year change.
|Keyword||Avg. monthly searches||YoY change|
|rad power bikes||90,500||-45%|
|santa cruz bikes||40,500||-18%|
My main takeaway is that the majority of “[brand] bikes” search terms had a negative YoY change, especially the majority of the biggest players. Specialized and Canyon were two big brands that had positive YoY growth while Trek and Giant were down. The growth of electric bike popularity manifested itself with several electric bike companies showing up on the YoY growth list, and a few of them have even made the list of most searched for bike brands.
It’s important to note that these figures don’t give us context, as there could be many reasons why a brand trends upwards. For example, Quality Bicycle Products recently announced that it would be shutting down All-City Cycles next year. There have been lots of articles written about this unfortunate turn of events (I love my Gorilla Monsoon) and lots of people may be trying to get their hands on a bike before they no longer can. Shimano also recently announced a huge recall for certain road bike cranks. So searches for All-City and Shimano have spiked, but it always takes more digging to understand the nuances of what drives search demand up.
Let’s review the questions I set out to answer.
How much does search demand typically drop in the shoulder seasons and off seasons?
After averaging the search demand decrease of the past four years, we found that in the fall and winter:
- the sum of all bike related searches dropped 29%
- bike shop related searches dropped 50%
- all sampled bike categories dropped in demand from 16-55%
- gravel (-16%), electric (-24%), and kids’ bikes (-29%) saw the smallest decreases in search demand
How is demand tracking for categories that are typically important to Q4 and Q1 revenue?
After analyzing search demand for September 2023 and comparing it to last year, we found that kids’ bikes (+12%) appear to be on track for a better Q4, but the majority of our sampled products showed decreases in demand between 3-23%.
What categories have continued to increase in demand since the initial bike boom?
We found that electric bikes (+67%), gravel bikes (+63%), cargo bikes (+63%), and wheelie bikes (+55%) have all continued to gain popularity in search since the spring of 2020.
What might search demand be like this fall and winter?
Bike-related searches in 2023 through the end of the summer are down 8% from 2022, according to our analysis. We expect decreased interest to continue into the fall and winter, delivering lower revenue for bicycle industry retailers in Q4 2023 than Q4 2022. That said, categories like electric, gravel, and kids’ bikes actually increased in search demand slightly over 2022, making them strong bets for revenue in Q4 2023.
What can retailers do to create resiliency?
I shared this list previously, but it’s important for new readers or struggling shops. A few of the tactics I’ve found that can help independent retailers compete with larger online stores and even grow revenue online include:
- Treat your website as one of your business’s most valuable tools
- Claim and manage your Google Business Profile
- Invest in ecommerce and expand your market
- Build stellar content that’s unique, easy to digest, and solves customer questions
- Use search engine optimization tactics and best practices to rank higher and more often to bring more visitors to your site
- Use pay-per-click advertising to move product and gain visibility
- Use tools like Google Analytics to gain insights into what’s working and what’s not
- Build an email list and send your subscribers engaging, helpful content
- Foster online community with an active social media presence
- Be an engaged member of your physical community
I started this research in order to help our bike shop clients better understand the volatile market they’re operating in so we could help them set expectations and strategize accordingly. If you’re a shop owner or manager who wants to discuss any of this information, or who has questions about how to help your business succeed in the years to come, please feel free to reach out and say hello. As a former bike shop manager myself, I would love to be able to help in any way I can.
Thanks for reading!