So who can you trust? Well, there is a reason I spend so much money at West Marine. In fact, I purchase over 90% of my electronics, wire, fittings, sealants, etc. from my local West Marine in Tallahassee. They are often (but not always) more costly than online sources but stand behind the product without reservation and offer an extended warranty. Recently, their prices on electronics have been comparable to or even lower than many online sources. Plus, I am face-to-face with the seller and he is not a nameless voice in a cubicle in Delhi. We can cultivate a valuable relationship that we are all anxious to preserve. That is worth a lot when you are in a small, isolated market like the Big Bend with relatively few boating resources and word-of-mouth means a lot.
If you want the convenience of shopping from home you can call your local store and they will take your order over the phone. If items are shipped to the store, there is no shipping fee. If you want an item delivered to your home you can go to westmarine.com and they will ship to your home, office, or boat. The defining factor for me is that they back their products, enabling me to thoroughly warrant materials and labor. If a customer ever has a problem, I know I can make it right and that counts for a lot to the customer and it is everything to me.
NOTE: I am not an employee of West Marine and have no fiduciary interest in the firm, though I did work there part-time over seven years ago. I endorse the company because of their dedication to customer satisfaction.
If shopping online it is essential to be cautious and to fully understand the return policy before you buy. A few years ago I installed a nice chartplotter a customer had purchased from Defender. About nine months later the unit showed condensation inside the screen. In order to replace it I had to call Defender, get permission to return it, travel to Shell Point to remove it, and then ship it to them. Four weeks later they sent a new unit and I had to go to Shell Point again and install it. Had the customer bought the unit at West, I would have had a new one installed the same day and at no cost to the customer.
If shopping online, I recommend places like the GPS Store where personnel are helpful and knowledgeable. Consumer Marine Supply is also well regarded in the field. Defender has some good deals but keep in mind the anecdote above. Use caution as many online distributors are operating out of a spare bedroom and buying seconds they market as new items under warranty.
Bottom line – use caution. High or low, there is always a reason for the price.
Be Careful Buying Online
• The ft of electronics exploded with the advent of ebay, craigslist, and other online marketplaces
• Installers removing old but usable electronics tend to salvage the entire appliance – display unit, brackets, transducers, and cables.
• Vessel owners doing their own work on functioning devices try to salvage all components for resale or reuse or may cut wires
• Thieves rarely take the time to remove brackets and I have never seen an instance where they removed all power cables, transducers, etc.
• Buyers who acquire used and/or incomplete components online are taking a great risk since they have little or no recourse if the unit is defective
• Several times a year I will be asked to install used electronics. Often the customer says he got the device online or it was a gift, yet rarely does the “gift” include mounting bracket or cables. The tech who accepts such work does so at great risk to his profession and integrity
• If someone attempts to sell you a display head with no cables or mounting bracket there is a very good chance it is stolen or defective
This story was originally published in the Big Bend Edition of Coastal Angler Magazine. You can see part 1 of this article here.