Mail order

Mail order

Probably no single subject has incited more lively discussion on MTB-OZ. The following is an attempt to dispassionately cover the issues involved in mail order.

Firstly, by mail order, we are specifically talking about mail order of bikes and parts from overseas. There are very few Australian mail order specialists, and those that exist operate as the mail order arm of real local bike shops, so don't raise the issues that occur with riders purchasing from overseas.

Overseas mail order is attractive for two reasons: price and availability. Prices of certain items, especially high-end US-made frames and components, are often considerably cheaper from US mail order specialists than they are in Australia. In addition, some items are simply unavailable here. If you want a selection of a particularly obscure component type, such as 48 hole tandem rims, you are not going to find much choice in Australia.

It is undeniable that the ‘raw’ price of a part is usually lower in the US than in Australia. By ‘raw’ we mean the price before shipping, import duty, wholesale tax and customs handling charges. When these charges are added, the price is usually much closer.

However, many of these charges are often evaded. To do so is illegal, but it nevertheless happens. That people are able to import goods from overseas and thus evade the import and wholesale tax charges that local retailers and importers are subject to, is a source of considerable irritation to people in the bike business here. To editorialise for a moment, it is my (John Stevenson’s) opinion that the actual financial cost to the industry of this black importation is relatively small, but the irritation factor is enormous.

For a dealer to spend a large amount of time helping a customer choose exactly the right bike and components for their needs, only to have that customer mail order the equipment from overseas is extremely frustrating.

The major disadvantage of mail order from a consumer point of view is the lack of local warranty support. As a customer your contract of sale is with the dealer where you bought the goods. The local, say, Rock Shox or White Brothers importer is under no obligation, either legal or moral, to assist you if the fork you have bought from a dealer in California turns out to be defective in some way. One air mail round trip for warranty can more than wipe out the savings you made on the original purchase.

Update, September 2005. The above was written when the US dollar was substantially stronger than the Battler. In some cases it's now possible to buy two of some components from the US for the Australian retail price of one. People are therefore ordering from the US and self-warrantying. This is hitting the Australian industry hard and while I have some sympathy for the retailers, it's hard to feel any sympathy at all for an import/wholsesale sector that seems to have nothing better to do than police eBay auctions to keep their prices high.

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