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In a potentially impactful but not particularly surprising move, Specialized will now sell its gear, but not its bikes, within North America via massive online retailer Backcountry.com and its cycling-specific site CompetitiveCyclist.com.
The move is certain to draw concerns over the future health of current brick-and-mortar retailers that carry Specialized gear, and marks a distinct departure from the company’s longtime resistance to selling its gear via large online retailers in North America.
Backcountry.com will sell Specialized tires, apparel, helmets, shoes, and wheels, but, at this time, no frames or complete bikes.
Specialized sent its dealers, who will be directly affected by the decision, an email with the subject line “New Partnerships for a Seamless Rider Journey,” according to BicycleRetailer, who obtained a copy of the email.
In the email, Jesse Porter, the company’s U.S. business development leader, noted that all Specialized retailers can now sell Specialized product online. Specialized is also investing in improved store pickup, drop-ship, lead generation, and a home dropoff pilot program for dealers – tools designed to keep the online sales heading to existing retailers.
The email continues: “To be where riders want to interact and transact, Specialized has to always partner with the most premium retailers. It has been proven that by partnering with the best Ecommerce retailers, the demand for products increases in the market. With that said, Specialized will be partnering with Backcountry.com and Competitivecyclist.com with equipment only.”
The cycling industry as a whole has been slower than many other outdoor industries to shift to digitally-focused models, largely in an effort to protect the thousands of North American brick-and-mortar bike shops seen as crucial to the industry’s overall health. Though online retail has existed for decades, only in the last half-decade have the online bike sale floodgates fully opened, led by direct-to-consumer brands like Canyon and Commencal.
In 2015, Trek announced it would begin direct-to-consumer sales for complete bikes, but utilize its vast dealer network to facilitate the process, and give those dealers a cut of the pie. Other major brands have set up similar operations. Specialized, however, has steadfastly refused to sell its bikes online in the US, though it does now allow retailers to provide real-time inventory updates, which can then be located on Specialized’s website via a “find nearby” button. Specialized gear has been available online via its own site for quite some time, but not via major third-party retailers like Backcountry.com.