Online, In Store, Or Direct — What To Watch For When Buying a New Treadmill

Justin Mastine-Frost | Last Updated - Apr 2, 2020

Even with the wealth of information available online, ensuring a seamless process through any major purchase can be challenging. Are you getting accurate information? Will the item arrive intact and as delivered? Is assembly manageable without the assistance of a professional? These are all questions that can be tricky to answer depending on how and where you’re shopping, and frankly there is no singular “silver bullet” answer. We can study and research a piece of fitness equipment all day long, but there’s a ton of work that also needs to go into researching the peer review side of things as well.

Though we will sometimes call in, assemble, and test treadmills right here in our offices, from a logistics and practicality standpoint we also often find other means of getting access to equipment for review, meaning that we don’t always get to experience the “from order to installed” component of treadmill ownership. That said, customer service and support (as a broad-brush category) is something that we do factor into our review figures, thus we’re constantly skimming online owner reviews for insight into which brands deliver the best (and worst) customer service.

In doing this, we also learn a lot about the buying process across several platforms, and the more we’ve dug into it the more challenges we see. We’ve already covered one side of how to prepare for your first treadmill purchase, but it’s these challenges in the buying process that led us to the content at hand—a “what to watch out for” sort of guide to buying your treadmill from any of the available points of sale out there. As you’ll see from the information we’ve gathered below, the retailer with the best sticker price can be, but isn’t always your best answer.

Buying From 3rd Party Retail (Online and Big Box Stores)

As with any form of retail, there are a range of pros and cons that come with buying a treadmill (or other larger ticket items, for that matter) from a big-box retailer. On one hand, during major sales events (Black Friday/Cyber Monday, Labor Day, and other major holidays), there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find a good deal. Generally these large scale retailers are buying units in significant volume, and thus can discount heavily on account of it. That said, you’re going to want to pay close attention to what you’re getting. For example, we’ve seen a number of cases where a treadmill could be had for a better price via Amazon or other retailers, however those units were not being sold with the same packages as what is on offer direct from the company. A specific example was one customer purchasing a NordicTrack 1750 from Amazon, where they did not realize until delivery that the unit they ordered did not come with the wireless heart rate monitor and tablet holder as sold directly from the manufacturer. Once you factor in the cost of those components separately, this shopper wasn’t getting the bargain they had been hoping for.

One of several key differences when shopping through a 3rd party rather than direct is access to information. Sure, if you’re shopping from a fitness-focused retailer, their staff (whether in person or virtual) are more likely to be properly trained and educated on the pieces of equipment they’re offering. On the flip side, if you’re looking at Amazon, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and other retail platforms, you’re facing a different beast altogether. Kiss the idea of an educated opinion goodbye when talking to any of their virtual or real-life sales associates. In trade, due to sheer volume of transactions these retail giants process on any given day, there is a sea of purchaser reviews to sift through. Amazon especially likes to hang their hat on this customer feedback, navigating these reviews can be equally perilous. First off, how individuals score these items is entirely subjective, which leads to some especially screwy data. Looking at reviews alone, there are some pretty terrible treadmills out there that somehow receive a higher ranking than some of the fitness industry’s benchmark pieces of equipment.

The logic behind this is pretty simple. At the bargain basement level, say pieces of equipment priced below $400, the expectation from end users is very low. Often a 4-5 star review will come with a line like “Assembly instructions suck, but it’s cheap and it works!”. These will be interspersed with people complaining about things arriving damaged or inoperative, but overall people aren’t complaining too much when they think they got a deal. On the flip side, when purchasing an item from a known brand in its respective industry, the bar is set much much higher.

The other part of the review side of things is the unfortunate reality of fake reviews (especially on Amazon, but also on other sites across the web). It’s a known fact that many brands, especially new brands offering bargain basement product, will pay individuals to post positive reviews of their products on Amazon, often offering gift cards so that users can purchase these items through Amazon for “review”. This practice helps the brands circumvent the “verified purchase” badging, making these false reviews appear legitimate to the naked eye. As a rule of thumb, I always sort reviews by most recent, and skim through several pages. With these questionable brands/reviews you’ll often see reviews of a significantly lower grade interspersed between those that have been achieved through unscrupulous means.

The last point of concern that we’ve seen when shopping through a third party comes in the form of delivery and setup service. Given the size of treadmills and other fitness equipment, delivery can be a bit precarious on a good day. That said, when dealing directly with a manufacturer, fitness companies know that their reputation hangs on their ability to get their equipment in the door and set up as cleanly and professionally as they can. Granted they’re certainly not perfect, and some brands could use an overhaul of their customer service these days, but I frankly lost count of the number of online reviews out there from people ordering treadmills through 3rd party retailers that arrived damaged or inoperative, and because of the communication between shipping company/retailer/manufacturer is more complex, many found themselves frustrated and dealing with trying to coordinate returns rather than waiting weeks and months on a fix.

Now, once again this isn’t always the case, but it is certainly a risk factor to take into consideration.

Shopping Direct

On the flip side of the coin, shopping for a treadmill directly from the manufacturer has its own set of pros and cons. Regardless of industry, no business is perfect, and just because you’re going straight to the source doesn’t guarantee you an absolutely seamless experience. At the very least, you’re taking a few unnecessary cogs out of the equation—especially navigating the pitfalls of communication between brand/retailer/shipper. As noted, no shipping service is bulletproof, but at the very least everything we’ve heard from people shopping direct points to the fact that brands are much quicker to take ownership of issues when you’re ordering through them directly. If there’s an issue with shipping or faulty equipment you can at least trust that the manufacturers will be on point when it comes to returns and other things. Having unpacked and assembled our fair share of treadmills over the years, this is a huge perk in our eyes. The idea of tearing down, re-packing, and figuring out how to ship a treadmill back when its in your home is not a simple thing.

The other big glaring perk when purchasing direct is access to information. What a treadmill comes with, what features in does or does not include, and talking points like this are much better explained via the brands themselves, and should you find yourself looking for more information (aside the lengthy reviews found all over our site), many of the online sales pages of the big brands either have a live chat option or a direct number to call where a well-versed salesperson can give you the insight you need. On more than one occasion when looking for more detailed specification I’ve found myself using this resource as well. Be warned, these are still salespeople you’re talking to, so they’re bound to poke and prod about whether you’re looking to purchase right away (trust me, I’m speaking from experience), but if you’re clear that you’re just doing initial research they’re generally good at backing off of the sales pitch.

Pricing also becomes a talking point when buying direct for a couple of key reasons. In decades past, the assumption was made that you would always get a better deal from a retail giant, as these outlets would be able to discount heavier on account of buying in bulk. These days, at least when it comes to fitness equipment, that is no longer the case. 9 times out of 10, the best available price on a current production treadmill will be available directly from the brand, as they cut distributors and retailers out of the equation. Brands are more aware than ever of a consumer’s ability to compare prices, and thus they do their best to always remain competitive.

Where you will see lower/discounted prices from retailers is on clearance items. These pieces of equipment are frequently updated as technology improves, and as these larger retailers make room for new models they will slash prices with impunity—especially around big sales days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You’ll also see some great discounts around that time when shopping direct from brands, however the real question will become how much you care about having all of the latest and greatest features on your new home treadmill.

The last thing that is a bit more of a reassurance when buying direct from a manufacturer is warranty support. Manufacturers are quite clear about what their warranties include and what they support when you buy direct, however when purchased through an outside retailer things can be occasionally challenging. The strangest case I’ve heard thus far came from a purchaser of a bargain basement treadmill on Amazon (I believe from Merax). The listing shows the treadmill having a 3-year warranty, however when the treadmill failed, the company said they did not support treadmill warranties in Canada. That’s right, it sold on amazon, shipped to a Canadian address without issue, but then its owner was left high and dry when it became defective. I don’t know about you, but I though that was the most ridiculous and depressing thing I’d ever Heard.

Final Thoughts

As I’ve noted throughout this story, there really is no magic answer to “where should I buy my treadmill?”, however armed with the right information (that I hope we’ve provided here), you’re better equipped to properly assess the options and make the buying decision that’s right for you.

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Amanda Brooks
Amanda Brooks
Running Guru