How to Shop for Sporting Goods

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Shopping a sporting goods store can be tricky, since equipment retailers aren’t known for their sales. 
 
The lack of discounts has to do with their customer base.
 
“Typically, parents buy sporting equipment right before a season starts,” says Brooke de Lench, founder of MomsTeam.com, a sports resource website for parents. She explains that it can be difficult for these consumers to shop at any other time since a child’s size can change so rapidly.
 
Additionally, league specifications, which are constantly subject to change, aren’t always provided during the off season.
 
“It’s almost impossible to buy a season ahead,” de Lench says. “Sporting goods stores know they have a captive market and that’s why we don’t see huge sales.”
 
The need to buy in season leads to availability problems for all consumers, not just parents and their kids, and is largely why you shouldn’t wait until January to go looking for a Speedo.
 
“They aren’t easy to find, and you’ll pay full price,” Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of ConsumerSearch.com, says. “A better idea is shopping about a month or six weeks into the season. That’s when you’ll start to see sales, especially on apparel.”
 
As such, Frietchen suggests consumers buy swim gear and camping equipment in late July or early August, skis/snowboard gear in late February and early March and running shoes in early spring when the new models are hitting stores, though she notes that there’s a secondary season for shoes in October-November.
 
Beyond timing, our experts point to the following tips to find the best deals on sporting equipment:
 
Negotiate.
 
In an effort to save, de Lench encourages parents to band together and negotiate with school or league officials if their equipment and team apparel requirements are too pricey. 

“Don’t be afraid to challenge many of the things going on in your existing league,” she says, pointing out that parents shouldn’t feel locked in to buying one particular item at a single retail outlet since it lessens the likelihood that they’re getting the best price.  

De Lench also says that parents can try to band together to broker a deal with retailers, offering a large order in exchange for a small discount on the cost of each individual item.
 
Lesley Tweedie is the owner of Roscoe Village Bikes, an independent bicycle shop in Chicago. She says that while it’s difficult to offer discounts on big-ticket items because profit margins would be too low, she does, from time to time, offer loyal customers discounts on accessories.
 
Tweedie also provides a small discount to customers who are members of the Active Transport Alliance or the International Cyclist Union and says that patrons should ask their local shops if they have similar offerings.
 
Shop locally for big-ticket items and equipment.
 
Even if they’re unable to give a bulk discount, local bricks-and-mortar shops may be the way to go, especially when you’re in need of advice and guidance.
 
“Take advantage of the expertise of the salespeople, especially at smaller stores, where hiring knowledgeable people is the norm,” Frietchen of ConsumerSearch.com says. “You won’t get that kind of attention and advice at many big-box stores”
 
“[Local shops] focus more on reputation and providing lifetime customer satisfaction and value,” agrees Brad Wilson of Bradsdeals.com. 
 

And, since small local shops tend offer better customer service both during and after your purchase, stay closer to home to try items like baseball mitts or bicycles for size. 

Tweedie points out that “fit is always really important” when it comes to buying sporting equipment so “be cautious when buying these items online.”
 
Shop for apparel and branded items online.   
 
The exception to this best practice, Wilson says, is when you’re looking to buy branded apparel or footwear. However, he does not suggest that you go looking for that at a big name chain of sporting goods stores either. Instead, you should go directly to that brand’s website.
 
“A lot of big brands use their websites as an outlet channel,” Wilson says. He points out that Nike has been known to offer 20% discounts on items that have already had their prices slashed online.
 
“Consider online for the best shoe or clothing selection,” Frietchen agrees.
 
Use coupons immediately.
 
If you are interested in tracking down deals at a big chain sporting goods store, Wilson suggests looking for them in your Sunday newspaper as places like Dick’s Sporting Good or the Sport Authority are still stuck on the Sunday to Saturday circular mindset.
 
If you do find a coupon, make sure to use it right away on either Sunday or Monday. Any later than that and, Wilson says, all the items on sale are likely to be gone.

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