by Lloyd Borrett — January 2007
With the rapid increase in scuba purchases made from online scuba stores, and with the expansion of the number of online stores available to the buyer, choosing an online store can be difficult.
It takes considerable faith to make large purchases involving items that could affect your safety from a store you don't know and from individuals you never see face to face. However, making safe online scuba purchases can be done and stores like The Scuba Doctor have hundreds of satisfied customers that can testify that the buying process is satisfactory.
There is no question, the type of competition that occurs on the internet will allow the buyer to save lots of money, as long as the purchase is made from a reputable dive shop dealer.
Online scuba stores fall into several classifications. We will attempt to describe the various types of online scuba stores and give you some data to help you determine which type of store you might be dealing with. While this information is not absolute, we think these guidelines are fairly accurate.
This type of online dealer is possibly the safest and most satisfying type of online scuba store with which to do business. The typical store that fits into this category has a full-service brick and mortar store, serving a community of local divers. In addition, they maintain an online store where some or all of their items are sold.
The Scuba Doctor fits into this category. The internet sites for stores in this category are almost always professionally done and well maintained. The stores in this category offer all of the services typical of your local scuba store: training, equipment service and sales, dive travel, and any other service you would expect of a brick and mortar scuba store.
In these types of stores, you should easily be able to get advice from a professional instructor and, in most cases, they are more than willing to spend the additional time necessary to help you make a proper selection. These types of stores always have a published phone number and probably represent the most stable type of internet operation.
Most important, many brick and mortar stores provide a level of warranty that exceeds the manufacturer's warranty.
We include this category because it was once a considerable force in the scuba industry. Many of the old catalogue sales sites now maintain internet stores that fall into one of the other categories mentioned in this document. These are often quite large operations and they are likely to also operate a brick and mortar scuba store.
In many cases, the catalogue and internet operation is done under another name not associated with their brick and mortar store.
Several of the largest online scuba retailers fall in this category. These stores are often simply fulfillment houses, many also maintaining websites for cameras, clothing, or other types of merchandise under various business names.
These types of stores are usually very reputable operations, but they seldom know very much at all about scuba diving. You are not likely to be able to speak to an actual scuba diver in these types of stores.
Auctions have become quite popular and represent a gigantic business for all types of merchandise. The most popular auction site in the world, eBay, even allows registered users to establish full stores to sell their merchandise.
While lots of scuba equipment is sold on sites like eBay, buying this way can be loaded with risk. There is simply no way to assure that the product you purchase is new. The shipping and handling charges for items purchased from auction sites or stores residing inside auction sites is sometimes large, making the overall value questionable.
Most of the time, you cannot telephone these merchants. But worse, they can disappear as fast as they appear. Despite the controls advertised by eBay and the other auction sites, ANYONE can open a store in a matter of minutes. Many of the stores described in the other categories in this document also do some selling on eBay.
The Scuba Doctor feels more comfortable dealing directly with you on our online dive shop and through our staff via your telephone calls.
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of these stores on the internet. You might find a bargain or two here, but by and large, you benefit when you are able to spot these stores and stay away from them. You can usually tell this type of store by the really obvious unprofessional website they maintain.
In many cases, stores in this category are brick and mortar stores that really have every intention of becoming a force in online scuba sales, but they simply lacked the skills and know-how to properly establish an internet presence. The biggest problem with the Here Today, Gone Tomorrow stores is that they are.....well, here today and gone tomorrow.
While it is sometimes difficult to determine just which type of online store you are dealing with, it is relatively easy to tell good stores from bad ones. The first good indication is the presence of a professionally designed and maintained website.
A professional website will be pleasant in appearance and using the site will be a seamless. A good website has pages that are well indexed and there will be an easy way to search for the items you want. Moving to those items will be relatively easy.
While many nice websites have capabilities for you to enter search terms for the item you are looking for, this is not necessary desired in a scuba website. A better idea is an index and search routine where you can choose a category, such as fins, masks, regulators, etc. or where you can choose a manufacturer name brand. This is the type of indexing and search routine used by The Scuba Doctor and eliminates the need for you to experiment with word phrases that might bring up the item for which you are searching.
We think a good website should also allow you to go to any page you choose, regardless of which page you are on at the moment. We call this a flat navigational structure. Websites that have too many steps before reaching the actual product page are often very difficult to navigate.
Another important feature of a good scuba website is the ability to directly contact the people running the site. You often need direct recommendations from the staff and an online store that does not give you the ability to talk directly with the sales staff is going to cause problems. There is simply no way for you to move from indecision to proper decisions in these types of sites.
Another good indication of the quality of an online store is the offering of a large variety of scuba merchandise. You should expect several brands and as many as 500 plus individual items for sale.
Of course, without question, you should get absolute security when ordering from an online scuba site. You should always look for the little lock icon at the bottom of any screens where you enter sensitive personal or financial information. If you have an older browser that does not support this icon, you can look for the https:// beginning to the web address on the checkout pages.
We obviously think The Scuba Doctor is the safest and most satisfactory scuba website you could possibly find. Regardless of which scuba website you elect to purchase from, spend some time getting to know the site and assuring yourself that you are dealing with a first class scuba retailer. If you have any questions, please fell free to contact us here at The Scuba Doctor.