A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the Coasting-website (coasting.com) was not online anymore and that the landing page was Shimano’s corporate website, Shimano.com. Just before writing this, I googled it again and there is shimanocoasting.com again, on the bottom of the page, just behind the link to my blog post (results may vary from country to country) ! Did I make a mistake, in March, when I was looking for the website ? Did I just miss it ?
But more interestingly, what bugs me is : What caused the Coasting program to fail ?
In a very interesting guest post on BicycleDesign.net, designer Mark Sanders basically talks about the cycling market as bunch of companies which sell high-priced bicycles to enthusiast cyclists (he calls them red oceans of enthusiasts). On the other hand, you have the mass-merchandisers selling very low-priced bikes in chain stores and supermarkets, targeting the mass of shoppers. Since these two approaches make companies compete on very “crowded” markets with low margins, we can indeed talk about red oceans that Kim & Mauborgne’s describe in their theory on business strategy, the Blue Ocean Strategy. In this theory, companies achieve growth by creating innovative ways to satisfy customers’ needs (differentiation), thus avoiding the high costs that incurr in highly competitive markets, and also driving up value for these customers. So is the cycling industry an unattractive industry ? According to Sanders, yes. I also think about an interview (in Institutional Investor of April 2005) of Martin Schwartz, CEO of Dorel Industries that I read when I got interested in Schwinn’s history ; he says that “bikes, it’s true, is not a great industry, but someone has to be the best, and Pacific (bike division of Dorel, ed) is the best by far“. Shimano seemed to having recognized that, and that’s where the industry-giant worked with IDEO, a global design consulting firm, to find a solution : Coasting.
The previous paragraph relates to both the Blue Ocean theory (2005) and the Design Thinking theory (2008) to describe Shimano’s initiative. IDEO is even run by the guy who wrote the HBR-article on Design Thinking, Tim Brown. So Shimano was basically advised by one of the leading strategists in the world, but about 3 years after the lauch of the Coasting product-line, the program was abandoned because it didn’t generate the expected commercial success that Shimano hoped for. The program thrilled the design-community (California Design Biennal Award for Giant in 2007, International Design Excellence Award in 2008), was praised by journalists and commentators (L.A. Times or Cyclingnews.com in 2007), but sales didn’t follow. Why ?
Several reasons cross my mind, and I’d like to have your feedback to contribute to the discussion…
- Design process ?
Shimano’s brief for IDEO was more or less as follows : help it create a $1,000, tech-laden bike that would lure baby boomers and their loose change off the couch (bicycling.com). It is very common in the design process that the consulting firm reformulates this brief, and it indeed proved to be necessary. Aaron Slar, social engineer for IDEO, and David Lawrence, marketing manager for Shimano travelled to different U.S. cities to find out what people think about bikes and biking and discovered all these things about people being intimidated by technology and basically wanting to get the feel-good biking experience they remember from their childhood. The prototype had grinded lugs and cable routers, a coaster brake and, more importantly, an invisible shifting mechanism. When IDEO presented their findings and recommendations to Shimano in Japan, “there was a long pause on the conference call. And it wasn’t just because of the translation“, says Lawrence. But the company rapidly got convinced, and started seeking partners within the industry.
This design process seems to have gone through the traditional steps, from understanding to prototyping and testing. Actually, I found few information about this “testing”-step. Who did Shimano and IDEO work with when they testes their prototype(s) ? Where there improved V2 and/or V3 versions based on customers’ feedback ? This would be interesting to know.
- Industry involvement ?
According to Daniel Gross, manufacturers associated in the Coasting-project (3 in the first year, 10 the year after) were rapidly found and seemed enthusiatic about the idea. Giant adapted bikes from its Suede product-line, Trek & Raleigh created bikes, the Lime and the Coasting. Today, the Shimano Coasting website shows 7 models from 7 different brands : Schwinn, K2, Phat, Fuji and the 3 brands that started with Shimano. I wonder what caused the number of manufacturers to drop ? They were indeed 10 in 2008, why did Sun, Jamis & Electra quit the program ? One possibility is that Shimano could not handle working closely with these 10 manufacturers and needed to skim off the least motivated ones… While some talk about a synergy between this major supplier and manufacturers, I wonder if the manufacturer’s didn’t think that Shimano would get too powerful if Coasting was a success ? Would have one single bike manufacturer have been more successful with the Coasting-approach ?
Shimano’s goal was to get 1,000 U.S. retailers involved the first year. In 2008, two years after the lanch of the group, industry consultant Jay Townley of Gluskin Townley Group said retailers were still hesitant to adopt the new product. To improve this situation, Shimano sent them an explanatory DVD and did set up a dedicated website, sellingcoasting.com. But even this kind of initiatives did not make sales take off. When I talked to a bike dealer here in Pensacola he wasn’t very convinced by the Lime’s (Trek’s Coasting-model) ability to reach a new target of customers. If bike vendors don’t grasp it, the customer probably won’t either…
- Marketing mix ?
PRODUCT : Did the consumer know what was actually sold by Shimano ? The company only sells the transmission and shifting-system by its Coasting group. This product is then mounted on the bikes by manufacturers, who sell the bicycle through independent bicycle dealers (IBD) in the United States. But Coasting is also a concept, a lifestyle, a new way of designing riding experience. I think it was made too hard for the customer to identify what he was actually buying : did he buy a Trek ? a “Coasting” ? a Shimano ? Who made what on this bicycle ? Why change the shifting-system ? I think it was not Shimano’s role to directly adress the customer, it is still the bike brands’ job to sell their products.
PRICE : The 3 initial Coasting bikes sold between 400$ and 700$. The Trek Lime’s retail price was roughly 500$, which is a fair price for a quality bicycle. It is half the price of what Shimano initially suggested to IDEO in the design brief. The aim of this pricing strategy was obviously to make bikes affordable to a large public who doesn’t ride bikes. I think the price was not a reason for failure, it was more that Shimano and, more importantly, the manufacturers were not able to communicate the benefits of Coasting to retailers and customers.
PROMOTION : The promotional strategy was intended to convey this feeling of freedom of riding a bicycle and to draw non-cyclists to the stores that sold Coasting. Newspaper advertising and guerilla marketing were used to increase awareness of Coasting, and the website Coasting.com was central to explain the concept and present bikes to consumers. The design of this flash-based website is fun and interactive, storytelling is used to involve the visitor (storytelling is part of the Design Thinking process, according to Tim Brown) and content encourages people to get on their bikes. Ideally Coasting bikes. Beside this, a demo-tour was also organized in several U.S.-cities to bring the bikes to the poeple and encourage PR & publicity.
PLACE : Coasting was intended to the U.S.-market only, and it has been launched in cities like Orlando or Phoenix before the whole country was covered in 2008. Shimano and the bike brands chose to sell their products exclusively at IBDs. I think this is one of the reasons that caused Coasting’s failure : while the website is a good way of presenting the concept/product/bikes, poeple are often unfamiliar with the specialized bike stores and bike-enthusiastic vendors. Why not selling through the web ? Was the reliance on a retailing network so important ? It might have avoided some obstacles too… But more than seeing problems on the U.S. market, I think that Shimano should have tried to introduce Coasting (or a similar technology, with a different marketing approach) into less mature markets like China, India and other emerging countries. Or even (very) mature markets like Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, where product acceptance might have been higher.
The future of Shimano’s Coasting is unclear. On the internet, Coasting.com vanished and ShimanoCoasting.com has appeared, the content is unchanged. As I said in a previous post, the program has been abandoned by Shimano because sales never attained the expected figures. I think there was a huge potential in this approach, and this post explains some points that could have led to Coasting’s deceiving results.
What do you think ? Do you have more informations ? More ideas ?
In your article you asked why Coasting bikes were not sold via the web. One reason for this is because these bikes need to be assembled properly in order for the bikes to work properly. Selling the Coasting equipped bikes via retailers ensures that the product is assembled and functions properly once sold and used. I work for a bicycle retailer and have years of experience repairing bicycles. I have seen in may cases how bikes bought off the internet or mass merchant retailers that are assembled by people without proper knowledge can affect the way the product works. In may cases the product doesn’t work properly and the end result is under use or no use because it doesn’t live up to expectation of the user. Bicycle shops also ensure that the bicycle fits the intended user. The people that the Coasting bicycles was intended for was a group that had not been on bicycles in some time and the expertise that bicycle shop personnel can provide is needed in that situation in order to ensure satisfaction with the product.
Thanks for your comment !
I totally agree with your point of view, but do you think that these targeted customers (“that had not been on bicycles in some time”) had enough incentives to walk into stores to buy a Coastig product? I mean if there didn’t go to stores anyway…
I think Shimano should have done more to promote the product – and I’m also convinced that other markets should have been approached. The way they did it is like throwing money out the window, no? 😉
This sounds not quite right. The fact that they haven’t been on bicycles for a long time won’t make them choose to buy on website and not in store. If I were one of them, would I choose to assemble the bike by myself given the fact I already didn’t want to do anything with the bike. I would prefer to let someone execute that task for me. It would have been right if the online delivery involves with assembling that bike for me after delivery right then.
That is one sad story, being coasters all the fun they are, and with all of the weight reduction that new materials and the elimination of all of the now usual gadgets can provide!
I bought one of the variations of this bike last year (a Schwinn Tommy) at a steep discount ($240 USD). I am the target demographic (52 year old male, who has not had a bike since High School). I have been very pleased with the bike. It is a true duffer’s bike with no hand brakes and only a coaster brake. There is flat ground around here, and a good bike trail. All in all, a really great bike for a guy like me.
Thanks a lot for your comment, Dave.
What do you think of the shifting? You got your Schwinn at a very good price, was the discount linked with Coasting (like it didn’t sell, or something) ?
[…] Some innovations merely solve problems that don’t exist. Remember Shimano’s innovative “Coasting” drivetrain system, which featured a generator-powered automatic shifter so the user didn’t have to shift her own gears? No? You don’t remember that? Yeah, neither does Shimano. […]
I am looking for imformation on the design proto types of the Shimano coaster bikes,as I believe I am the owner of one.
Hi Terrence, unfortunately I don’t have any idea any Coasting prototype… maybe one of this post’s readers has an idea?
Echoing Dave above, I am in the demographic (55, male, had not ridden a bike in many years), and I have been delighted with my Trek Lime. Over the past 4 (+/-) years I have probably exceeded 2,000 miles of riding, exploring the city in which I have now lived 21 years, but had never really gotten to know (long work hours and too much travel.) As some of the components of this bike are getting worn, I’ve started looking for a “Next-Gen” version of the Shimano Coaster, and am very sad to not find them, nor any apparent successor. I’d greatly appreciate any comments about where I might find some roughly comparable bike.
Hi Jim, thanks for your comment. I’m not if you can find next gen Coaster bikes, but your local bicycle dealer should be able to help out, no?
Do you think that shimano makes mistake with the communication? I mean in the marketing strategy….
Probably Shimano wasn’t able to communicate properly, I agree with you!
[…] a totally new product: the Coasting group. Eventually this offer did not work on the market, for whatever reason. But it’s an interesting case, and another possible application of on-the-ground market […]
[…] develop the “coasting bike”. Unfortunately, the product did not sell well and was soon discontinued, so including that example makes this article seem less persuasive than it might be if the chosen […]
I have a schwinn shimano auto shifting pedal break bicycle & it is a horrible ride. It shifts at all the wrong times. The seat is brutal. The handlebar style is awful. What is great is that i can ride on grass & gravel with greay eaze due tonthe great tires. It cost me $600 & regret it.
[…] it to reference, I see that Oprah gave it out during one show, and then this long article about why the program failed. I am exactly what Bicycling Magazine and Raleigh wanted to happen. Apparently not enough of me […]
Reblogged this on guslep.com and commented:
And I was reading ¨change by design¨
I just ran across your blog post. I am fascinated by this case because I am in the process of developing systems for a global corporation that will be used by people from hundreds of cultures. The Coaster program seemed to start with such promise and then failed. Do you have anymore thoughts on why it failed?
Do you think that they did not understand their customer well enough to get them to buy a coaster?
Do you think that success was even possible?
If so then what would you have done differently?
Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Hi Charles, thank you for your comment.
To be perfectly honest I don’t have much more knowledge about this case than what I discovered when writing the previous post and trying to grapple together this one. I wouldn’t think that IDEO doesn’t understand the users – I think they do everything they can to get into the users’ shoes – but maybe the concept was just ahead o its time, like for the shopping cart https://yannigroth.com/2011/08/12/the-ideo-shopping-cart-1998-wasnt-a-failure-the-concept-was-just-ahead-of-its-time/.
Maybe it’s a product that did not need such a massive overhaul of the concept, and more familiar ideas would have worked better. Or maybe the idea was actually perfect, but implementation & distribution hindered success (imagine if you have a great product but the retailers who are supposed to bring it to the customer don’t understand it… or they are not incentivized enough to sell the new product than the existing, competing ones).
I’ll be very honest and tell you that I’m not sure if I can give you 1 simple answer. But if you feel like sharing your thoughts, or even your learnings after launching you oroduct, don’t hesitate to get back to me. I’ve already written about a successful case (https://yannigroth.com/2012/11/22/how-brazilian-bike-manufacturer-caloi-refined-its-brand-proposition/) and even if I couldn’t go on the ground to investigate or verify myself, I found it very interesting to write about.
All the best to you, Yannig
I found the coasting bikes to be fun to ride! I’m not the target demographic since I’ve riden bikes all my life and have owned many types of bikes over the years, I’m 50 now. I first became interested in the technology used to make the automatic shifting work and since I’m a gadget guy, the coasting bike was something I wanted to try. I noticed a K2 Easy Roller on the REI Outlet website discounted to $250 and bought it even without test riding, after the local REI called me to pick up my new K2 bike, I rushed over and rode my new gadget home! Loved it so much that when a few other bike shops had giving up on the coasting concept (or more likely never supported it) and heavily discounted their stock, I picked up a new Trek Lime for $200 and a new Fuji Del Rey coasting bike for $230! 3 for the price of one! Those 3 coasting bikes are by far the most reliable bikes I own, too.
Hey Paul, thanks for the info, I just picked up a used Scwinn COASTER, and am very curious to know what kind of maintaining should I be expecting from it? I can see since it has pedal brakes, it does not need any maintenance there, and the coasting system appears to me as very low maintenance also since the chain is stationary riding on one gear only on both sides…the body and the wheels are stainless steel, so not much worry about rusting there… The only maintenance I can think of is maybe greasing the chain…I’d really would like to know what’s been your experience so far with their maintenance? What have you ever done on them?
I live in buffalo ny and just came across a raleigh coaster in a local bike shop for $450. Wasn’t sure it was a good deal. I will have to check other bike shops for others. Loved the ride.
Should have sold them at Target. Or Walmart. Honestly. Proper assembly by company trained techs and then sales through mass market outlets at a bit lower of a price point.
It’s too bad that it was a failure….Yet, no one seems to be discussing the most glaring issues with the project.
1. Go to market strategy: IDEO is proud of the fact, and even brags, that they are on the front end of ideas and projects, passing the execution off to someone else for execution. The fundamental problem with that, is that their entire organization discounts how important and connected a go to market strategy is to the strategy. The go to market strategy is an intimate part of the business that should directly reflect and activate the brand, especially a new product No amount of carpet bombing in the form of big budget design or advertising tactics (yes, even the Ellen show) can save you. The “pure riding” strategy was far from pure in its approach to the market as its very broad and unfocused target audience and mass channels stifled the opportunity to build a niche. For instance, what if they had first focused on the baby boomers that wanted to enjoy exercise? Would the name have changed? Would the marketing efforts change? Of course they would. The fact that they launched their product with mass scale tactics before understanding their niche was proof that there was a disconnect between the product and the go to market strategy….and that “pure riding” might have been pure BS, if not all together lost, in the mind of the customer.
2. Blue Ocean what?: Although “Blue Ocean Strategy” was cited several times to support the shimano project, this is a gross misinterpretation of blue ocean. Most people don’t like to read entire books anymore, but if Ideo would have, they would see that blue ocean is first and foremost a strategy, not a market result. It seems they focused on what blue ocean calls “non customers” but what kind of non customers? So far all I’ve read is that they were focused on baby boomers in the “everyone else” category, meaning the baby boomers who haven’t ridden a bike in decades. The lack of empathy for the deeper social needs and work-arounds of the customer being made evident in the strategy, calls into question both their claim of a blue ocean strategy as well as their stake in Design Thinking and Design Research; but at the very least it suggests that they were focused on mass dollars, designing a gimmick, and not individual needs (an inherent problem in mass marketing and design research). I believe there is an opportunity to readdress the population and consider the workarounds that are being used today for non-riders/customers and then focus the strategy and the product even further (Grounded Theory would suggest that Ideo didn’t reach the point of saturation in their research, and thus attended to a surface need only). Simply offering a new product that eliminates the need for shifting gears is technical, short sighted branding, inattentive to deep needs of “non-customers”, and, ultimately, it’s no blue ocean.
more balance，less fun，like honda motorbike.
I am surprised that this coaster system did not catch on. I have 10 new in the box Fuji coasting bikes and no one seems to have interest, I had 24 and the one’s I sold to customers have all been just fantastic. They love them and have even bought more for there vacations properties. But the average Joe just doesn’t seem to be interested.
I was thinking of taking the lead power from the front wheel and making it a cell phone charger. Now that would sell.
I am interested in one of the bikes. Could you email me the prices and sizes you have. I am a female and almost 6 feet
Using the generator front hub to power a light and/or set it up to charge a cell phone GPS unit or other electronic items I something I thought would be great.
Shimano tends to do this. Will put an item out and then discontinue it after a couple years. The problem with the Shimano coasting was probably lack of bicycle dealer support which led Shimano to only offer it for a couple years. Shimano has not produced a Coasting line since, but you can probably cobble something together from their various offerings. SRAM produces a two speed auto shifting rear that does not require it be powered by current to shift. I haven’t run across a ready made set up like the coasting bikes.
I am mildly interested in one of the Raleigh Coasting bikes for utility usage.
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[…] Roth, Yannig (2010). What caused Shimano’s Coasting-program to fail? Blog post. https://yannigroth.com/2010/05/12/what-caused-shimanos-coasting-program-fail/ […]