Strong dollar + online shopping = safety compromise?

There has been a surge of internet shopping from overseas by Australians, a trend urged on by a stronger dollar as well as a growing comfortableness with buying online. The online spending binge even took Australia Post by surprise – the postal service reported that its Sydney “gateway facility” in Clyde experienced an increase of incoming packages from other countries that was 24% higher than usual in the lead up to Christmas 2010.

The online shopping frenzy has also been helped by an anomaly in Australian tax law which allows any purchases made from overseas that are $1000 or less to be made GST-free. Larger Australian retailers (Myer and Harvey Norman for example) were in the news late in 2010 over the issues they were having over this same tax law (they were labelling it as consumers exploiting a tax “loophole”), and their own plans to recapture Australian consumers who were making good use of online shopping.

Buying bicycle parts and even whole bicycles online has been taken up by Australian cyclists for a while now, and if you know what you want it can be a real money-saving retail option. But along with the bargain saddles and wheels etc, other online temptations could be exposing Aussie cyclists to slipping standards.

Specifically, helmets. Australia’s helmet safety standards are among the highest in the world, and despite the ongoing arguments about head protection and helmet versus no-helmet discussions, it remains that helmet laws are a fact that Australian cyclists need to deal with. And as with other safety equipment, there are certain standards are legislated for them.

That the internet is increasingly leading to a borderless retail world is already testing the waters as far as safety standards application goes. One case in point is the Danish helmet brand Yakkay.

No-one could ever accuse the great cycling nation of Denmark of not having a sense of style, and Australians have particularly warmed to the country since its prince married “our Mary”. The prevalence of cycling in its capital city is such that we even describe a certain form of bicycle infrastructure as “Copenhagen-style” lanes.

The helmets on offer from this manufacturer, which was launched by a group of Danish designers, have combined cycling and fashion sense, and appeal to “non-lycra” riders. There is a range of styles, but the basic protective helmet can be worn without the hat covering as well. Several cycling blogs and forums have discussed the helmet brand at length.

Even Australian Cyclist has depicted these headpieces (see the article ‘Girl Power’ in last Sept-Oct issue). Of course this is not the only brand available online, but the “fashion” status of Yakkay has given these particular helmets a successful viral marketing push. There are no Australian retailers, but several outlets listed on the Yakkay website offer online sales.

But these are European products, and are made to European standards, which obviously are not Australian standards and strictly speaking should not be retailed in this country – and for local manufacturers and on-the-ground retailers here, this safety standard can be effectively applied.

Buyers, on the other hand, have no such restrictions sitting at their computer screen browsing overseas retailers’ offerings. Which leaves open the question of course, of where the enforcement of safety standards can be applied.

Not by on-the-beat law enforcement officers it seems. One Yakkay wearer in Brisbane reported that a policeman pulled her over because he thought she wasn’t wearing a helmet at all, as it looked to him like a sun hat. But when shown the helmet hiding beneath, he let the cyclist go on her way.

Having high safety standards is admirable, but the question of application is another matter, not to mention the enforcement of these standards and which body or organisation can take up this task – especially in our brave new online shopping world.

This first appeared in Australian Cyclist magazine