We all know the best prices on many items, including marine electronics, can often be found online. But is it really a good idea to buy an item this important from some unknown web entity? In the past, the short answer was “no”. It’s simply too risky to buy a unit blindly, without the assistance and knowledge of a good electronics tech. In fact, the smart move is usually to pay a little more and buy from a shop which has a trained NMEA (National Marine Electronics Association) tech on staff. At least, that’s what most of us have thought up until now.
Times are changing, and these days, those web retailers are looking for ways to make purchases more reliable. Some are even mixing a little brick-and-mortar attitude in with their digitized deliveries. “Customers want and need support,” says Scott Heffernan, sales manager at The GPS Store, which has been doing business on the web for better than a decade. “Even if they know what unit they want, there may be ways to simplify installation, better understand the interface, or they may want a recommendation for a certified installer.”
The key to providing that support? Access to NMEA trained and certified staffers. “We’ve had a NMEA certified staffer for two years, we’re training more now, and our staffers are boaters themselves so they really use and know the gear,” Heffernan said. “It works out great for our customers, because we set up a toll-free phone line and an info email account. During business hours we try to answer those emails within one hour.”
Are efforts like these enough to make buying marine electronics online a safe move? If you’re a DIY guy who only needs a bit of advice or a good sounding board, it sure would seem so. Just remember the one key factor: access to that NMEA-trained assistance. Because buying electronics blindly from an internet retailer who can’t offer this kind of service could still leave you in the dark.
TIP: You can check out dealers to see if they’re NMEA certified at NMEA’s web site.