The internet is an amazing place which has presented us with new oportunities in many different areas of life and business - and created entirely new concepts that we weren't familiar with even 5 years ago. I mean, who knew what a "blog" was in 2001?
But, as with most things in life; with new opportunity comes new responsibility. E-commerce, while it accounts for only a small percentage of all commerce in the United States (which is the little-known fact that the "dot-coms" don't want you to know), is becoming an increasingly fertile platform for scam artists and fraud.
I've written on a couple of occasions about internet fraud in our industry; and in spite of increased effort by bicycle brands and distributors to police the exchange of their goods online and increased awareness by reputable retailers - internet fraud involving the sales of bicycles and bicycle-related goods is becoming more and more pervasive.
Just today I recieved an e-mail from someone who visited our store - doing due diligence - to research an advertised sale of a bike on e-bay. After visiting our store to get our opinion and then going home to do some further research, here's what he told me via e-mail:
"I was the guy at your shop today asking about that Litespeed Tuscany. We were looking at the web site and questioning the legitimacy of the offer. It turns out that it was a hoax. Apparently these guys try to clean out your paypal account on ebay. I reported them to ebay security. I felt like [a jerk] being in your shop asking for information about another bike. You guys answered my questions with class. I have the bug to get a new bike and hope to do so through your shop soon. I’ll leave ebay alone."
The retailer in question is listed on Trek's dealer website (however they aren't listed for the brand that was in question) - and so I will not provide their name or website, as I have to assume that they are normally legitimate. This particular case may actually be stolen goods being sold online by a disgruntled employee or otherwise; I have no way of knowing. But, even so, the over-arching theme here ought to be: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is - this "deal" obviously was.
Some of the most reputable brands in the bicycle industry do not allow their goods to be sold new over the internet. If you see a sale advertized for one of these products that does not require you to pick the item up in the store - just be safe and don't buy. These sales are often stolen goods or simple hoaxes where the sellers ship empty boxes. At the least, you get ripped-off. At the worst, you're in posession of stolen goods, which is illegal.
At the least, follow the example of this particular customer and do some research. Don't impulse buy. Look to see if the seller is listed on manufacturer's websites as a dealer. Search Google for customer reviews of other products purchased from this seller. If you do a google search for our store, you'll find pages of listings on our brands' dealer locators, links to articles we've written in reputable industry publications, press releases from other organizations, and links to our activity in the local racing community. These are the kinds of things that you should find from a reputable retailer. You need to know that they are active in their community and revered by their peers. It doesn't take long to research a retailer anymore. Take some time to limit your risk and enhance your experience.
Shop safe. Error on the side of experienced, educated, helpful and friendly sales people who are happy to see you in their store. None of us in the bicycle industry make a lot of money. We're in this because we love it and we want to see more people have life-enriching experiences like we have. You may not always find that "bargain-buy" and save $10 - but that money is well spent when you have a problem and that sales or service staffer is there to help you out because they feel a personal sense of responsibility for your cycling experience because you've been a loyal client of theirs.
Thanks for reading.