Wednesday, November 3, 2010

West Marine v. Defender

"Thank you Auntie Julie and the Ryans!"

At the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis this year, we were on a mission: we were there to buy, we knew what we wanted, and we were price sensitive. On the first day, we walked back and forth between the West Marine and Defender booths, our lists in hand, taking notes and taking pictures of price tags with our iPhones. That night, we reviewed all of the data and surprisingly, neither retailer emerged as the clear winner. West Marine beat Defender in some cases, and vice versa. I was surprised because I expected Defender to undercut West Marine with few exceptions.
Before casting off on my first voyage in the mid-1990s, I lived two-and-a-half miles from the Ventura, CA West Marine store. During the three years I worked to ready the boat, I drove back-and-forth to that West Marine hundreds of times. I heard often from friends on the dock that Defender’s catalog prices were much lower than West Marine's prices, and they were. For the larger purchases that my big-boat dock mates made, I'm sure Defender made sense. But this was the pre-Internet era and Defender was strictly a mail-order operation. For the smaller, frequent purchases I made over that time period, the cost of shipping and the receipt and return hassle didn’t make Defender a better value to me.

Of course, over the past 18 years the marine retail landscape has changed. With Internet sales common, free or discounted shipping the norm, and sales tax the exception, the West Marine store’s brick-and-mortar value is diminished—especially given their recent dilution of their once legendary return policy. Young folks today never use the words "mail order" and Defender is now an online retailer--and so is West Marine.
Windy is planning a Mexico trip to the boat now, for the first week of December. She’ll take a bunch of measurements while there. When she returns, we’ll be able to finalize a list of the remaining items we need to purchase and bring south with us. I’ve already begun scoping out retailers for some of the purchases we have yet to make. I know now that it will not be just a West Marine v. Defender battle. At home, and now that the 'boat show specials' are over, there are hundreds of online retailers, including Amazon, competing in the marine retail area. Some are specialized ( and others compete more broadly--all of them are eager for our business.


1 comment:

  1. Don't forget that West Marine does price matching. Find it cheaper online from any reputable retailer and then buy it for the same price from West Marine at the store saving the shipping cost! Here's the link to their Low Price Guarantee Policy:


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