Purchasing items online is fast becoming the norm for people these days. You can find almost anything you could think of just by Googling it on the Internet. Once you find what you are looking for, the next question is from which online store you should buy it. Should you go with the big box or the speciality online retailer? The Internet shopper is often drawn more toward the big name stores, but there are several drawbacks to relying on them for your purchase.
Big name stores often are lax in the knowledge of the equipment itself. This shows in the descriptions of their products which often consist of vague bullet points rather than full description of the features and the benefits. Those that do have descriptions often make the more knowledgeable diver/snorkeller wonder if the person who wrote it has ever even worn a pair of fins, or has had a snorkel in their mouth.
The speciality diving/snorkelling retailer, like The Scuba Doctor, knows the gear that they sell and realises that while some of their clientele are experienced divers/snorkellers, the bulk are beginners who have no idea of what they need, or how to use it. They focus on the product itself by giving you more in-depth descriptions which allow you to make a more educated decision.
They include articles that range from what equipment suits your needs, how to use and maintain it, and even information on places to go diving and snorkelling. A really good speciality retailer has size charts that don't leave you guessing at what they mean by small, medium or large and whether the sizing is male or female or if, in the case of fins, they accommodate wider foot sizes. In short, the speciality online stores focus on diving/snorkelling with content rich information.
This is a high priority in your purchase decision making process. If you have a question on a product that is not answered in the product descriptions, or in the support articles found on the speciality online store, getting answers should not involve having to hunt for a way to get in touch with the retailer. Then when you do find the "how to" you should not have to get lost in the "press this button for" maze that is often associated with the big box online stores phone systems.
If you choose contact by email, the speciality online stores will usually be prompt in their reply, or at least acknowledge that your email has been received and they are either researching the question or directing it to the person who is most qualified to answer.
After Purchase Service is also a consideration. Questions always come up after you have purchased your product, whether it is shipping or how to attach the snorkel, a speciality retailer wants you to be happy and will often go to great lengths to make sure that you are satisfied by being there for you, rather than just being there.
We can with all honesty say that neither the big box or the speciality stores like to have product returned, but how they deal with it does affect whether you, the customer, will consider them for future purchases or even refer them to family and friends. Since the speciality folks realise that they deal in a niche industry customer satisfaction in all aspects of their business plays an extremely important role.
All companies should have a certain sense of pride in the products they sell. While we agree with this, we have also found that brand name diving and snorkelling equipment sold at big box online versus speciality online stores can sometimes be comparing apples to oranges. Manufacturers who sell to the big guys often have to take short cuts in order to appease the price point that the big box stores are looking for. This can include using PVC instead of silicone, plastic lenses in masks rather than tempered glass and even the elimination of certain features of the product that can be considered desirable to the diver/snorkeller.
By now, you realise that we are in favour of the speciality online retailer, but much of what we have described above does come from personal experience in dealing with both. With that being said, we realise that it is ultimately up to you, as the decision maker to choose wisely.