I have waited for a while before writing about this in order to give me time to put it into perspective. We’ve been shopping at West Marine for about six years now. We made our first purchase late in 2009 when we bought our Columbia 26 and wanted to have GPS aboard. There was a West Marine in Dana Point where our new (to us) sailboat was berthed, so we decided to make most of our marine purchases there. That was before Amazon and other online resources became so popular. Now here we are on our fourth (and last) sailboat, and we are in the process of again outfitting our sailboat.
This all started shortly after we took possession of our Morgan 41. We had visited out new sailboat on several occasions while in the process of negotiating and consummating the deal, and we had a pretty good idea of what all we would need to get her ready for the Pacific. After many hours of researching specifics, I decided that West Marine had the best deal on a GPS/Radar/depth system. It was made by Raymarine and could interface through NMEA 2000 to all the other devices I wanted to install. The system was a package deal and the asking price was $1,749.99 – not a bad deal! We found one of these units at the West Marine in Newport Beach while we were looking for an inflatable and outboard, so we went ahead and made the purchase.
We decided that we would take it back to our office so that I could connect everything together and test it all out before I installed it. I’ve learned the hard way that if you take something to the boat and intend to install it in the future, only to find out that it was bad out of the box, you’d best pray that the warranty is still good. If not, then you’re stuck with a paperweight. I connected everything together and hooked up a 12 volt power supply, and all went well. As I started going through the different features and options ont he display, there were a few features that I really wanted to test out. One was the CHIRP sonar, which actually attempts to paint a picture of the ocean floor, and the other was the WiFi option where you could connect your iPad or Android device and completely control the unit. This would allow me to have my iPad or other tablet connected from the cockpit or in our stern cabin to keep an eye on things. Great to help with shorthanded sailing. The problem was that I could not find the WiFi option. I found the Bluetooth option, but this was for other things. The WiFi option was nowhere to be found.
So, what to do? I went to the West Marine website (screenshot above) and thoroughly read the ad for the unit we bought. Although it did not explicitly state that the A78 display that was included had WiFi, all the A78 displays that Raymarine sells, do. The WiFi “option” is really not an option. I could not find where you could buy a non-WiFi version. And, there was no place in the West Marine ad that stated the A78 display was modified or different than a normal A78 display in any way. I immediately contacted West Marine customer service to ask them why I could not find the WiFi settings. My first email was on January 26th of this year, and this is a paste from the email:
“To Whom it May Concern:
I recently purchased this system from your Newport Beach store (last week), and when I connected the system together, was dismayed to find out that the A78 display variation that West Marine sells does not come with wifi capabilities. Nowhere on the internet page did the package description indicate that the A78 display was a variation from the standard Raymarine A78. It does list Bluetooth as a network option, but it does not indicate that it does not have wifi capability. It simply states that it is an A78 display with the package.
What you are selling is NOT an A78 display, but a variation, and that is not defined anywhere in the store description of the product. At the least you should clearly indicate that this is a variation of the standard A78.
In calling the store, I was informed that the A78 display that comes with wifi in the package sells for $2399. So I am to understand that to simply have a proper A78 display with a wifi chip inside that is enabled, I need to pay an additional $650?
I am severely disappointed in West Marine for this false advertising, and will probably not continue to outfit my new sailboat using West Marine, nor will I recommend West Marine to anyone else. I have also discussed the advertisement and the product with the attorney in our office, and her legal opinion is that this is false advertising.
Please forward this to the appropriate level of management, and I will await a response.”
Customer service was polite enough, and responded telling me that they had forwarded my email to the Merchandising Operations Team for resolution. Okay, good so far. Through the next few emails, I was told that they were working on it, and that they would get back to me. Finally, two months later and after contacting them again, they responded telling me that they could not help me and that I would have to go to the store and talk to the manager. To say I was angry after being put off for months is probably an accurate statement. Aside from being put off, they had no resolution other than to tell me to go talk to someone else. At that point my response was short and to the point:
“Thank you for your response.
As I stated in my first email, the unit was advertised as a standard A78, which was wifi enabled. It was only later that the West Marine website was changed to reflect the fact that this was not a standard A78 display, but had the wifi disabled.
I do not intend to contact a store manager – we are way past that point. I will discuss this with the attorney in my office, and we will decide if this is worth a small claims action against West Marine.
At this point you might want to forward this to your legal department. I will be also contacting them today.”
This is when I contacted their corporate office and the legal department. I requested a fax number or email address so that I could forward the email trail. Legal responded within about a day, apologizing for my inconvenience and letting me know that they are going to investigate the issue and get back to me.
Ultimately their legal department was more than apologetic, and promised to trade out my current A78 display with the proper one for the ad which I purchased from. As you can see above, West Marine, and probably the legal department, made the decision to clarify their website to reflect that the A78 display included, was in fact not a complete A78, but has the WiFi disabled. Ah, the power of the internet. In capturing the screen from their original ad, I was able to forward that to their legal department and that helped to resolve the issue. Had I not been able to show the original ad, they may have told me they would not help me. In that case I would have had to file a lawsuit, subpoena records from whoever handles their website updates, and take them to court.
All and all I cannot really say this left me with a positive feeling for West Marine, but also not negative. They falsely advertised a display that should have had all the features, then they gave me the runaround when I contacted Customer Service. It seemed no matter how I explained it to the Customer Service representative, they were too thick to get it, or perhaps too lazy to handle it themselves. Once legal became involved, and it should NEVER have escalated to that level, they were quick to resolve the issue, but only after I had threatened a lawsuit. During the final contact with legal, I was told that the following Saturday the A78 display would be at the Newport Beach store, and I could stop in at my convenience and swap it for the correct unit. We drove down to the store that Saturday only to be told that the A78 replacement had been ordered, and their order times were three to six weeks. We waited, and finally they called and told me the display was there. We drove down and did the swap. We were finally made whole, but it should never have come to any of this had they been honest in their advertising.
Will I shop at West Marine in the future? Sure. We have a gold membership and have made many purchases there, including the last thing we needed – a 12 foot RIB. Will I make sure that I research things before I shop there? Oh yea! Will I buy elsewhere if possible? Yes, I think so.