Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is the Internet fad fading?

The headline is a joke. Looks to me like the Internet is here to stay.

But I'm wondering if the bloom is off the rose a bit when it comes to Internet buying. In a generally down business year our new outboard and stern drive prop sales are trending up--Mercury Quicksilver, Michigan Wheel, PowerTech and Volvo Penta, our primary brands.

In previous years we steadily lost new prop business, and it wasn't hard to see why. Just google boat propeller. There are dozens of companies selling propellers and the prices just keep going lower and lower.

But I can't tell you how many people have come to me asking for help making props they bought on the Internet work on their boats. In most cases, no way, Jose. Wrong prop, and the guy clear acrosss the country won't take it back.

Admiral/C&B started selling propellers with the help of Internet advertising long ago--we called it "mail order" back in the old days of 2001. But I always felt that propellers were too specialized to slap up a shopping cart and let the customer pick his prop. Too many props will come back. I've always reasoned that it's better to communicate with the customer to figure out what he really needs, by phone in the old days and by email today. Our "Internet" sales have steadily declined, victim of the big guys with shopping carts and slim profit margins.

So we've adjusted our "retail" prices to reflect the reality of the Internet world while steering clear of undercutting our dealers who really make an effort to sell new props. Our prices aren't cheapest, but you'll get 100% expert advise and 100% guaranteed satisfaction. Returns and exchanges are no problem because getting the right prop on every boat is our primary goal. Our customers are more local, but they're likely folks who would have bought online in the past.

And we're still stocking a lot of props, in contrast to many dealers and distributors. That seems to be helping wholesale and retail sales. Had a guy come in earlier today to buy a prop for a 25 hp Yamaha that nobody in our big town had in stock. Should've called the prop shop first because I've got plenty.

Maybe consumers are ready to start worrying about something other than price. Our experience with new prop sales indicates that it may be starting to happen.

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