Who could have predicted, when this whole Internet business kicked off, that cyclists would be among its keenest users? Let's face it, technologies don't come much older than two wheels, handlebars and a saddle.
But culturally, as cycling and Web browsing both become more popular, they make perfect bedfellows. It was this connection that led Edinburgh Bicycle, one of the UK's top five independent bike shops, to set up a Web site, making it one of the first two-wheeled companies on the Net.
The idea occurred to Lindsay McDermid, the retailer's promotions manager, after he visited a conference last year. "It was obvious that there was real enthusiasm from every quarter for the Internet," he says. "So afterwards, I emailed some friends about the possibility of an Edinburgh Bicycle presence and the response was really positive."
McDermid called in Mark Tortolano, a student, to design and set up the site, which fills 22Mb on the Pipex network. The company was keen to avoid the kind of glorified product catalogue which is all too common on the Net, particularly from retailers.
As a co-operative, Edinburgh Bicycle has a broader brief than many other bike retailers. As well as selling equipment, it offers evening classes, repairs and maintenance, organises events and recommends routes. All this is reflected in the Web site, which offers information on products, services and broader cycling issues, as well as providing links to large US manufacturers such as Marin and Canondale and UK organisations such as the lobbying group Sustrans. The site is updated weekly.
For those who want it, there is also a full product listing which customers can print out and use as an order form. The Web catalogue is deliberately different from the company's regular mail order forms so that it can track the number of orders placed via the Net.
It is already proving modestly popular. After a quiet start, at least two orders now come through each day. Most orders are for accessories and clothing although some bike orders have been placed too. However, Edinburgh Bicycle has no plans at the moment to encourage Internet shopping.
"I'm still sceptical. People are concerned about putting credit card details on the Net. I just don't know anyone who does it yet," says McDermid.
Although only a few months old, the site attracts over 300 genuine hits a day. It's popular but it's not making money, partly because it contains no advertising. "We pride ourselves on our independence and we only sell the best," says McDermid. "If we accept ads, we start compromising our independence. It's possible we could sell space to map companies and the like but it's not a priority now."
The retailer doesn't expect to see any return on its investment for at least two years. Instead, the aim is to have a presence and build experience for a couple of years' time, when the Net really will take off.
Launched July 1996
Designed by Mark Tortolano
Target audience Cyclists
Set up by Pipex Hits per day 300.
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