MTA: Where we buy marine electronics
The MTA 2011 Survey is still underway. In fact, we could really use more responses. Yes, we’re running it a bit later this year, and boating season has begun for many, but remember the goal of helping marine electronics manufacturers and distributors to better understand what we want and how we buy stuff. Your response, for instance, might help to confirm or modify the following MTA analysis of which sources are on the rise, and which aren’t…
To-date, MTA has captured nearly 1,400 survey responses from marine electronics users. One of the key areas of focus of the survey is sources of supply. The survey asks users:
1. How they select their sources of supply
2. How their sources are performing, and
3. For specific comments on their recent experiences with current sources
The table below highlights which channels, or sources of supply, users are purchasing from and how their preferred sources have changed during the past year.
1. Plummeting Share — Marina/ yacht club/ dock stores. Why? Well, according to our surveys, and the comments provided by respondents, this channel offers hellaciously high prices, generally uneven service, limited selection and long lead times for out of stock.
2. Declining Share – Consumer Electronics Stores (CES) and Supplier Websites. Two different stories here.
- CES. This channel share had been growing during the past few years, especially with GPS, mobile computing and communications platforms and some house and entertainment systems categories. However, according to the comments in our database, CES support is generally very weak, and the pricing, no longer as competitive as other channels.
- Supplier WebSites. Decline in this channel as a source of supply has been going on since at least 2009. There are a number of factors cited for this, incuding too much promotional information, not enough technical information, and uneven pricing.
3. Stable Share – Marine Electronics Retailer/ Wholesaler websites. Survey respondents cite the broad selection, brand comparison capabilities, price and delivery as their strongest points. These are the preferred channels for mid-range price/ complexity purchases.
4. Growing share – Marine Electronics Supply Shop. With an already high rate of response 76.1%, use of this channel grew 4.6% in relative terms to 79.1%. Why? Because it generally delivers convenience or expertise, some both. From contigency purchases, to planned evaluation, test and rollout of complex systems, these channels are providing more value, and winning more business.
5. Rapidly Growing Share – Other Sources/ Broad-Line Web Retailers. A number of factors are combining to arrive the marine electronics at a place where broad-line retailers, especially Amazon based on the number of citations, are gaining share in the recreational marine electronics market. Key point: Service expectations are low, purchases are concentrated in commodities, simple components and less complex solutions.
- Commercial and consumer grade mobile devices on boats
- Broader collection of GPS options, application and deployments
- Amazon’s growing collection of offerings in these categories
- Competitive pricing
- Reliability, aggressive delivery options
What is the Point?
Changes in purchasing sources are powerful indicators of a number of trends in the recreational marine electronics market. A number of stakeholder groups – from users all the way through vendors of enabling technologies to marine electronics suppliers — can benefit from considered application of this data. Please consider taking the survey, or recommending colleagues to take the survey. — Marine Technology Advisors
PS There’s a place in the survey where respondents can write in up to three of their favorite sources. Hundreds are named, as reflected in the high and growing preference for specialized marine electronics shops above, but of course a few are named a lot. Below is an update of the most-cited list generated early in the 2010 survey. No surprise that long-time online discounter Defender and surviving national chain West Marine dominate, but I think it’s interesting that essentially regional operations like Hamilton (Maine) and Fisheries Supply (Washington) do so well. Maybe marine electronics really is a “cottage industry”? — Ben
One thing you didn’t mention is commoditization. From what I’ve seen, as new tech slides across the hype cycle from over-rated and under-performing to a generally reliable commodity, buyers move their purchasing from new tech boutique suppliers to the commodity houses as soon as possible.
The second aspect of commoditization is the disappearance of end user maintainability. Thirty years ago a local technician with a modest bench could fix a radar. Today one either trashes it for a new one or sends it back to the manufacturer who trashes it and sends a new one or new guts in the old case. $3000-$4000 electronic devices have become no more maintainable than cell phones, so people buy on price and the channel that sells lowest with the best return policy generally wins.
Christopher, that’s an interesting comment. I place a lot of emphasis on “onboard warranty” when buying high value items like radar, autopilot and MFD’s. I am technical enough to install myself but often this is not good enough to convince the manufacturer that you qualify for onboard warranty. There is nothing worse than having to remove something, box it up and freight it to a central workshop and wait two weeks for its return. Then re-installing and hoping like hell it works! Without onboard warranty you have to firstly find someone willing and capable and then PAY BY THE HOUR and boy can they take their time with the clock ticking away! Then to add to our problems, each manufacturer has their own version of onboard warranty, terms and conditions.
Price is king and everyone wants to buy at the cheapest price available but we all expect unconditional warranty and after sales service. I would be happy with the manufacturer who set a pricing matrix whereby you could buy an onboard warranty and extended warranty options.
I can understand that there’s no need for this when talking small stand-alone products, handhelds etc but when the product like a MFD, radar scanner etc is hard wired and flush mounted into the vessel then it’s a nightmare dealing with “return to workshop” warranty policies.
Yep, like you I look for what mfgs will fund “onboard.” In the case of my last faulty item, they told me to box it up anyway (major mfg). I had my lawyer look at the warranty and she pointed out the clause of clauses — “at the manufacturer’s option.” I went back through all my warranties and found this or something similar in all of them. When the mfg sent it back “repaired” they had burned seriously new firmware, and it no longer interfaced properly. I had to upload drivers for everything with which it interfaced.
Like you I can handle most installs (even with no standards for wiring colors etc) but real repairs darned near require one to destroy the equipment to get into it, and once there, one needs a suite of specialized test equipment and diagnostic software…which is why, after much correspondence, the mfg admitted they had told me to box and ship — none of their representatives can do much of anything with the stuff “onboard” either.
Occasionally, I feel great nostalgia for tubes and O-scopes.
Ah, CRT and O-scopes….now those were the days. In a past life was was a radio communications technician and although I spent only a short time behind the workbench or carrying a tool bag, I have fond memories of those days. A career change in my mid late 20’s saw me leave behind the tool bag and slip on a pair of shiney shoes but I have not lost my touch when it comes to tweaking and fiddling on all things marine electronics.
Having said that over the last few days I have had two very different boating experiences. First was with a friend of a friend who has a near new 45ft sports fisher with all the mod-cons and gadgetery that you’d expect on a $600,000 boat! The owner spent all day with his head peering into LCD displays and moaning about things that were not working. Being slightly technical and having a fair bit of experience I felt obliged to earn my lunch so there I was fault finding,checking settings and trying to make things work all whist the owner was shouting at someone (the supplier) on his cell phone! It was not a pleasant experience and for his $600,000 I think the owner has added a few more ulcers to his growing list of issues. We hardly communicated about anything other than hearing of complaints about things not working, things that in my opinion are really not needed in the first place!
Last weekend I was invited to go sailing on beautiful wooden boat. The only electronics onboard was a fixed mount VHF radio and a depth/speed/temp guage with associated sensors and a basic GPS. We had the most wonderful boating experience where we spoke at length about all sorts of topics, took our time to enjoy the surroundings and simply relaxed. I could not help thinking about my previous weeks experience where the owner/skipper was red faced and popping heart pills because the naming of AIS targets was not correct!
John, you’re right about the complexity of some systems, especially when large parts of the systems are custom built, or proprietary. As good as I think I am, sometimes I just shake my head at the lack of documentation available to the end users, technicians, and in some cases even the builders. A sea of tied up wiring harnesses, and endless blinking black boxes buried deep in the barely accessible bowels of the vessel, and not one single wiring diagram. The one thing I can tell you about simple is that it’s always more reliable, and much easier to fix.
Oh, one more thing to say about repairing broken marine electronics, 99 percent of the time I can’t fix them, and removing them, packaging, shipping to Mfg, and re-installing them is always expensive to me. Lets look at a typical one. Go to boat (0.5 hour), remove under warranty chart plotter (0.5 to 1.0 hours, if lucky), write letter/get RMA (0.5 hour), take to UPS, wait in line and have it packed, agonize whether to insure, pay to ship (1.5 hour or more), wait, take 10 calls from owner about when it will be done, get unit back, go to boat (0.5 hour) re-install unit (0.5 to 1.5 hours), often having to reload waypoints, and set up the system and test. If it’s easy, just 5 or more hours invested, plus freight, and expediting fees if requested. That’s just a chart plotter, now do the 80lb radar pedestal, aargh. I never end up being able to bill for all of the true costs of the work. From the owners view point I just took it off, and shipped it, why is it so expensive he says? Onboard warranty rarely pays me the true costs either, and has a lot more paper work attached to it.
John & Bill,
I too traded steel toes for shiny shoes. My bench was a software lab in the late ’60s early’70s and then a flight line. In most cases the technical documentation physically out-weighed the devices documented and everything was driven by standards, standards, standards.
While I am pleased with the suite of capabilities I have on the boat, the only thing that integrates them is GPS (and not even that entirely any more).
In the course of performing the integration, seven items had four different color schema in their wiring harnesses. [Red and black for power are not even consistent with the addition of yellow.]
The new AIS which cannot share GPS in (but can out) adds a new schema. Oh, and the wiring schema for bringing in the $GPHDT sentence is, well you can’t actually call it non-standard in the absence of a standard. [It’s instructive to read the current Soundings article on the lack of acceptance of DSC radio technology being somewhat anchored in integration difficulties — and to see industry’s uneven participation in the dialog.]
Among the eight devices, there are eight menu syntax. There are four switch conventions — “+” on one increases field of view and on the another decreases it.
And all this is before one even turns the devices on and is suddenly presented with a “well it’s never done that before.”
I remember the days of a depth sounder, a knotmeter and a handheld GPS that gave nothing but lat and lon. I don’t long for those days, but neither do I remember spending much time with the manuals.
On many days, I would gladly trade my “steel toed boat shoes” for “shiny” ones. I can barely remember the days when I came home, and you could still smell the soap on me from the morning shower. Today, not so much.
Bill, I feel your pain but running a business even with my shiny shoes I sweat a lot more nowadays…just a different kind of sweat 🙂 That’s an excellent breakdown of time and costs, thank you.
I love my plotter and could not imagine boating without one. But a good 2D color GPS plotter with decent charts and simple menu is all I need.
Boat owners expectations are so high (thanks Steve Jobs & Co.) that there’s no more “wow factor”. At boat shows the sales guys demonstrate some very impressive 3D plotting features, complete with radar overlay, AIS target tracking, ARPA, weather overlay, detailed charts with flashing buoys, bathymetric details only previously used my the military, better than 1m position accuracy, built in memory capacity and high definition waterprrof displays and the customer looks somewhat disappointed, pulls out his iPhone and asks if it can “sync” with latest his iPhone app which he downloaded for free! I remember the days when you showed a customer a “birds eye view” of his position on the big blue ocean, a rough outline of the coastline with a few contour lines and half a dozen waypoints and he was ripping open his wallet! Those were the days!