26 December 2014

Boxing Day And Big Box Stores

Today, the day after Christmas, is known as Boxing Day throughout the English-speaking world--except, of course, in the United States.  Here, after our so-called War of Independence, we decided to toss out everything British.  But somehow or another we managed to keep the class system, although we did away with the titles.

All right, enough political ranting.  I mention this holiday because I recall how, the first time I heard about it, I wondered whether people went to see fights or, perhaps, whether they fought each other.  (I'll bet some people fight, especially spouses and other family members, after something or another that didn't go as planned on Christmas Day!)  Perhaps South African officials realized other people thought as I did when, in that country, the holiday was re-named  Day of Goodwill in 1994.


In other countries, particularly England, Canada and Australia, stores offer huge discounts because most people wouldn't enter a store otherwise--unless, of course, they are exchanging gifts.  Our stores do the same, but they're simply called "Day-After-Christmas sales".

It seems that those big retail events are as much a part of small mom-and-pop stores as of "big box" outlets.  And they're part of just about every sector of the retail industry, with a few notable exceptions.

One of those exceptions is, of course, the bicycle retail industry.  The "big box" stores might offer big discounts on bikes purchased in boxes, but even those price reductions usually aren't as great as those for, say, bed linens or kitchenware, let alone Christmas decorations, gift wrapping and cards.  And small bike shops might offer relatively small discounts--say, 10 or 20 percent, in contrast to the 50-75 percent reductions typical for holiday-related items--on bicycles or even high-quality components.  Sometimes prices are slashed on bike accessories, such as computers, but the selection tends to be small.


When I worked in bike shops, people used to ask me why they couldn't find the sorts of sales they were accustomed to seeing on items like luggage and home electronics in bike shops.  The not-so-short answer goes something like this:  Profit margins on bicycles are fairly small.  Paradoxically, high-end bikes actually have even smaller margins than those on bikes sold to the masses.  

One reason for that is that the more you buy of something, the better a price you can get on each unit--and a bike shop simply cannot buy in the volume in which departments stores make their purchases.  In fact, even some mom-and-pop stores buy their wares in greater quantities than most shops will buy of any given model of bike.  The obvious reason is, of course, that bikes take up more space than most other items sold in most other kinds of stores.   

But even on components, few shops make mass purchases of, say, Campagnolo Record Ergo shifters or Dura-Ace cranksets.  That is because the market for such items is still small, and because those companies, and others, change their offerings more frequently than in times past (I still remember when Campagnolo and other European manufacturers made, essentially, the same derailleur or brake or other item for decades!), a shop might be stuck with a high-end item for years, or even for the life of the shop itself.  While such items might make for nice showcase displays, they don't add to the store's bottom line. 

If you do see large day-after-Christmas--or Boxing Day-- discounts on bikes or parts, you're most likely shopping online.  Companies like Performance and Chain Reaction Cycles buy in far greater quantities than any local shop ever could and therefore get better prices, which allows them to offer lower prices to customers.  In fact, an industry insider once told me that Performance actually buys whole boatloads of Shimano components and has them trucked directly to their giant warehouse.

Anyway--I avoid shopping for anything on the Boxing Day, St. Stephen Day, the Day of the Wren, the first day of Kwaanza or whatever you call 26 December, just as I avoid it on Black Friday.


  1. Boxing Day is an official state holiday in Texas, and a few other southern states do likewise.

  2. Steve--I didn't know that. It's very interesting. I've heard it argued that the South kept more English (and, in the case of Louisiana and the Gulf region, French) customs han the north. What you've said is evidence of that.

    Thank you for spending the past year with me, and Happy New Year!