Trends & Features

How Digital Advice helped Trek Bicycles engage and convert novice riders

During planning meetings, it’s not uncommon for executives at Trek Bikes to start talking about their mothers. But far from being polite chit-chat, those conversations have a vital strategic purpose: to understand the needs and expectations of novice riders so that Trek can serve them.

Curtis Bice, marketing project manager at Trek, said: “Most people at Trek are bike people. We know the bikes very well and it can be hard to step out of our own shoes. So one of the exercises we’ll do in meetings sometimes is think of our mothers to try to understand more of that base user opinion.”

It’s easy to see why. The novice rider market is growing in importance for bicycle manufacturers and retailers. And in two of Trek’s strongest markets, the UK and US, the number of new people taking up cycling is surging annually.

Around two million people in the UK ride bicycles regularly, contributing to a market worth £1.5bn. Across the pond, the number of people hitting the road or trail on a bike has increased by 20 million over the last ten years.

With a growing market comes an opportunity to generate more customers. But bikes are often expensive and complicated purchases – trying to buy the right product when the choice is so extensive can be an overwhelming prospect for people new to the pastime.

“We have over 300 models on our website, and somebody who is not very familiar with bikes is going to become very confused very quickly,” says Bice.

“For customers without much bike knowledge, there wasn’t a good way of narrowing down the options. We have categories and classifications to help users filter through the results, but they require some familiarity with the products to use them effectively. We needed a better way to inform, inspire, educate and excite our visitors about the Trek brand.”

After undertaking extensive research, Trek decided to partner with Digital Advice technology company SMARTASSISTANT to integrate an intelligent digital advisor on its website.

Unlike static and feature-heavy tools like product filters, digital advisors (Trek calls its advisor the “Bike Finder”) ask consumers about their needs and preferences before recommending a few products that match the answers they give – thus narrowing down Trek’s product range of 300 to two or three appropriate bikes.

The Bike Finder asks questions like ‘Where do you want to ride?’, ‘Why do you want to ride?’ and ‘What riding position do you prefer?’, and dynamically changes its line of questioning based on the user’s answers.

It’s an innovative way to get shoppers to the right bike more quickly and dispel the ‘decision paralysis’ that often comes when choosing a high-ticket item of which there is a large selection.

But Trek has always been about innovation. Since it was established in a red barn in Waterloo, Wisconsin in 1976, the US’s biggest bike brand has pioneered a number of initiatives: it was the first bike manufacturer to mass-produce aluminium bikes before moving onto high-end carbon material. Trek was also at the forefront of female-friendly design, creating the Women’s Specific Design bikes and accessories.

Today, customer experience is king. Consumers now crave personalisation. They expect trusted advice from the brands they buy from. Once a customer chooses a bike to purchase, Trek will forward them to a retail partner nearby for the transaction to be completed. But, increasingly, customers visit brand websites to conduct research before visiting a retailer to purchase, and providing an excellent customer experience on these owned assets is becoming extremely important for Trek and manufacturers in general.

“Buying decisions often happen online before a person ever walks through a retailer’s door,” says Bice. “Trek needs to provide the product information and tools to help customers make these decisions online, otherwise shoppers won’t even look for our retailers.”

Trek has integrated its digital advisor all over the UK and US sites. It’s one of the first things shoppers will see when they visit the homepage, and it is present on product category pages in case customers require a little bit more education or inspiration. The results suggest that the exposure is having the desired effect.

Bice said: “We’re finding that people who use the Bike Finder are twice as likely to convert than those who don’t. Uptake and engagement are also strong: four per cent of all site visits use the advisor, and the average session time is about three and a half minutes.

“Judging from the answers users select and the price ranges they focus on, we can tell it’s primarily novice riders that are using the digital advisor. It’s great to see that we’re reaching our target audience.”

But it’s not just favourable placement that contributed to the initial success of the Bike Finder. With the SMARTASSISTANT Digital Advice Suite providing the technological foundation and necessary capabilities to launch digital advisors, Trek was free to concentrate on devising the questions, designing the look and feel, and agreeing on the language that would resonate with its target audience.

Bice added: “One of the early questions we considered for customers looking at mountain bikes was ‘How ‘rad’ do you want to get?’ On reflection, we recognised that most novice cyclists aren’t really thinking about getting ‘rad’ – in fact, the might be put off by the kind of language. So, we refined the question to ‘How do you want to ride on trails?’”

Another challenge, says Bice, was choosing the imagery to accompany the questions. He said: “The key was choosing images that made sense for customers. We didn’t want people to see a picture of a person early on in the process and think ‘I’m not that person. I don’t want that type of bike.’

“So, to make the images more universal, we made the conscious decision to remove people from the pictures for the initial questions. We then add the people back in further down the path, once customers get closer to the product they want and are ready to associate with a certain kind of cyclist.”

After experiencing initial success in the UK and US markets, Trek is now in the process of rolling out the Bike Finder to a further 15 markets. By using SMARTASSISTANT’s localisation feature, Trek will be able to manage and update market and language-specific digital advisor versions faster than with any hard-coded solution. Trek is also developing a Saddle Finder with SMARTASSISTANT to help customers find their perfect bike seat, and other advisors are in the pipeline.

“We already have ideas for integrating a Tyre Finder,” reveals Bice. “Tyres are a very confusing product. Just go and look at our mountain bike tyres, we have a dozen different types for different purposes. We’re also working on a Bike Sizing tool – a Digital Advice solution that can help people through that as well.”

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