I’ll start today’s deep dive with a confession: I know even less about boats than I do about makeup. I’ve heard of the existence of boats, I’ve studied ancient boats a bit – Odysseus needed a boat for his great adventures, and Noah’s Ark had to be built to very detailed specifications, although how big a cubit is, I still have no idea – but boats are a weird foreign concept to me. And that makes this analysis particularly objective: I’m not biased by any preconceived notions. In fact, in all of our ecommerce platform analyses, this is the first one where I haven’t heard of even one of the top brands and retailers.
So, with a mind as clear as the wide blue sea, these last few days I’ve been wondering: what ecommerce platforms do the top boat brands and retailers use? Before jumping in to our analysis, let’s go through the list and see which ecommerce platforms the top 30 ones are using:
|Atlantic Marine Depot||WooCommerce|
|Bass Pro Boating Centers||Custom|
|Boat and RV Accessories||Onveos|
|Boaters Marine Supply||Custom|
|Field and Stream||HCL Commerce; Oracle Commerce|
|Mission Boat Gear||Shopify|
|West Marine||SAP Commerce Cloud|
And while we’re at it, let’s also break the list down by platform:
|SAP Commerce Cloud||1|
So there are a bunch of interesting things about this list. Let’s look at them.
First, after having done lots of these lists across many different retail industries – this is the flattest list we’ve seen by far. Almost always, of the top 30 brands in any space, 10 to 15 of them are on one platform (most commonly Salesforce Commerce Cloud), 5 to 10 on another, and then a couple of stragglers here and there. But the list here has a bunch tied for first at only 5, then a bunch tied on 3, and a bunch that appear only once, including a few we haven’t seen before on any other list!
Why is the boat retail platform space so flat? Why is there no clear leader, and so many random one-off appearances of largely-unknown platforms? I’d suggest that the boat retail space is a lot less standardized, a lot less “plug-and-play” than most industries, which creates a lot of curious commerce use cases, which leads to a variety of platforms. Building a boat is somewhere in-between a B2C and a B2B play: while lots of middle class Americans, not to mention the rich, love their boats, boats can get very custom and very unique very quickly. This is far, far from a “choose your shirt color and size and you’ll get it in the mail” type purchase, except for the very bottom end of the space.
Indeed, the most popular platform – well, tied for first place, although only a touch ahead of the second place – is WordPress’s WooCommerce. Say what you will about WooCommerce, but it is easily and powerfully flexible, and you can transform it using simple PHP into whatever you want. It’s the perfect platform for extensibility if you don’t need to integrate with complex legacy or ERP or other systems (the big boys are better for that). So the popularity of WooCommerce here supports the idiosyncratic market thesis.
Indeed, tied for first place is creating a custom platform – and in a marketplace where every purchase is so unique, that makes perfect sense.
What’s surprising about this space is the appearance of ecommerce platforms barely used by leading brands in other spaces. Let’s look at some of them. Onveos runs Boat and RV Accessories – and Onveos is built on ASP.NET. I didn’t even realize that was still in use in 2020. This implies to me their site needs a replatform.
And then there’s Volusion, which runs Boatowners Warehouse, which is an interesting choice. Volusion is a Finnish up-and-coming competitor to Shopify, whose big selling point is there is no per-sale commission – unlike Shopify. That’s an interesting strategic decision, and appeals to lots of people who are allergic to commission fees. Indeed, one of the biggest hesitations we often hear about Salesforce Commerce Cloud is that once you scale, the fees get ginormous, to use the technical word. The challenge for the platform is that it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario: without commission fees, it’s hard to charge the dollars you need to fund your growth and build new features; and if you do, it scares off clients or potential clients just as they’re about to start making money.
Vilkas, running The Mariner, is another surprising choice. Vilkas has been around for 20 years and never quite took off outside of Finland; it is giving Shopify a bit of competition in its home in Finland, but not so much in Florida.
The online commerce space for boats, in other words, is an interesting space and different from the others we’ve examined – driven largely by the complex needs of boat retail commerce. What ecommerce platforms are you looking at, and what might be a good fit for your needs? We’ve seen every scenario under the sun and would love to have a brainstorm and deep-dive into your situation and see what might work best for you. Just send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org