By Neil Pascale
An annual helmet survey that delves into the motorcycle consumer’s psyche asked for the first time what is the most important element in making a final buying decision: the look and style of a helmet, its safety features or its comfort and fit?
The latter issue turned out to be the No. 1 answer the highest percentage of time in the J.D. Power and Associates’ 2009 Motorcycle Helmet Satisfaction Survey, a study of more than
4,600 consumers. Surveyed consumers fielded the questions in September and October of 2008, anywhere from a month to a year after their purchase of a motorcycle helmet.
Besides identifying the “most influential” reason for the ultimate purchasing decision, the survey also examined a number of other issues of importance to retailers, including consumer brand loyalty and how often riders are replacing their old helmet.
Industry aftermarket experts discussed the survey’s findings, noting in some areas where consumers’ answers don’t necessarily follow with their actual shopping habits. Phil Davy, the brand manager for Icon, noted one of these contradictions in the “most influential” category. While Davy certainly understands the importance of comfort/fit, he still doesn’t see it as the No. 1 consumer attractor.
“I’ve watched very closely with helmets and the very, very first thing that draws somebody over to look at a helmet and pick it up and put it in their hand is the look of the helmet,” said Davy, whose brand of helmets was once again among the top three in the survey’s customer satisfaction index. “It isn’t the sign that says sale price. It isn’t the sign that says this one is safe. It isn’t the sign that says racers use this one or it has a quick-change face shield.
“It’s the look of the helmet, which is the combination of the graphics and the shape of the overall helmet.”
Davy also noted price is typically the second item shoppers look at before actually trying the helmet on.
That key stage — identifying if a helmet fits properly — is one that Helmet House National Marketing Manager Richard Kimes says the national distributor counsels dealer staff on quite often. Their message: The general rule of thumb is the longer the consumer wears it in the store, the better.
“You would be amazed at how many people assume they have the proper size because that’s the size they wore in another brand of helmet or they’ve always worn large helmets or they won’t even try it on,” Kimes said.
Kimes also notes how the current economic challenges have changed consumers’ shopping habits.
“What we found is that when times are a little more economically challenging, consumers tend to be a little more intellectual about the purchase process and less impulsive, so that graphics, while still important, tend to be more challenged by safety and fit/comfort,” he said.
That trend certainly has its upside as Kimes notes the possible safety ramifications of having an ill-fitted helmet, specifically how many people go with a larger helmet than what is needed and thus do not have the necessary grip on the side of their face, allowing the helmet to possibly move too much in a crash.
Another safety concern: How long consumers go before replacing their helmets. The survey found about two-thirds of consumers had purchased a new helmet in at least the past three years. Still, one in 10 consumers are waiting more than five years between helmets, a potential area of concern.
“Helmets break down over time,” said Davy of Icon. “The No. 1 thing that seems to happen to them is the shell becomes more brittle. It has less of a tendency to be able to absorb an impact and more of a tendency to pass the impact onto the rider’s head.”
Exactly when consumers should replace their helmet is a debatable topic. Davy believes five years after the date of manufacturer — every helmet by law should have a date of manufacture on it. Others in the industry, includes Kimes, believes five years after the sale or seven years after the date of manufacture should serve as a guideline.
Either way, the message to the consumer is be the same: Replace your old helmets.
“If you’re wearing a helmet that is 10-12 years old, odds are high that the EPS liner has started to degrade relatively significantly and the protective performance in a crash could suffer,” Kimes said. “It’s not uncommon after 8-9 years that the EPS liner does start to become brittle.”
When consumers are ready to select a new helmet, the survey shows they are likely to look for their current brand. In fact, more than 61 percent of consumers say they “probably” will repurchase their current brand while another
23 percent say they “definitely will.”
But is this another area where the consumer mindset may not match their actual shopping habits? Davy thinks so.
“We’ve been looking at this kind of stuff for a long, long time and we have not found anywhere near that brand loyalty. When it comes time to replace the one they have or they see something on the shelf, I think it’s wide open,” Davy said of brand choice. “It’s absolutely wide open.”
Copyright 2009 Powersports Business