Interview with Sean Kennelly, Managing Director at Island Water World about the new e-commerce website, extra online shopping discounts and secure payments.
With its recent launch of an online store, Island Water World is the first marine business to introduce an e-commerce website in the Caribbean. Moreover, it is also one of very few fully featured online stores of any type retailer in the region. A good reason for us to talk to Sean Kennelly, Managing Director of Island Water World, about his motives, experiences and challenges in setting up an online retail business in the Caribbean.
Based in Sint Maarten, with stores in St Lucia and Grenada, the company has been a retailer and distributor of boats, motors and marine goods in the Caribbean for over 40 years. Island Water World is known for offering a wide range of products in stock and priced right
“We are always looking for ways to enhance the value equation for our customers. With Sint Maarten being duty free and having excellent sea and air connections with most the other islands in the region, we knew there must be a way to get products cost effectively and quickly to our customers on islands where we didn’t have a store”, says Sean Kennelly.
Large US based marine retailers and wholesalers, utilizing both printed catalogues and the Internet have been selling into the Caribbean for years. “It has always been an issue for us and other Caribbean based businesses, dealing with large US corporations trading in our back yard”, explains Sean. “But this made us more competitive over the years. Our prices are much the same as in the US, which is tough when trading in the Caribbean where you don’t have the volumes of the large US giants. We have nevertheless been able to grow a loyal following in the Caribbean because we are physically present. We not only have the goods, we are sailors – we know how our products work, we can help, we can advise and you know that in the unlikely event a product fails – we are here, nearby – just bring it back.”
The real challenge for Island Water World has been to incorporate this service expectation in an online environment and still be a first choice for customers based in the Caribbean. “The internet is your best friend and your worst enemy,” says Sean. “Now customers browse a number of online stores or catalogues and easily make comparisons. So, for example, we might have a potential customer stuck in Nevis or St Vincent with a broken pump.
In his online research he realizes that the prices between the US retailer and us are similar. Our advantage at this point is local shipping and customs knowledge. We can get this particular pump to the customer quicker, cheaper and more reliably than the US competition can. Plus we are confident that we can offer in most cases the same or better prices than the US player. “
To achieve this goal, Island Water World spent many hours negotiating to secure extremely favorable air freight rates from FedEx and regional air carrier LIAT. “And since not all products can be sent airfreight, we offer very reasonable Sea freight pricing, so that hazardous or oversized products can easily be shipped, too”, Sean adds.
E-commerce challenges in the Caribbean
What is so special about the Island Water World online store other than it being a homegrown Caribbean product? Sean explains: “Many sailors are using their laptops or notepads on so called ‘hot-spots’ throughout the Caribbean. Often the connections are spotty, slow and frustrating. It was very important that we get our information over quickly. We didn’t want a site overburdened with huge pictures and distracting adverts. We developed a fast loading site, easy to use. It has a well organized index, pictures that tell the story at a glance as well as text and links that provide relevant information. The goal is to give the customer the tools to making an informed decision.”
A major concern for setting up an e-commerce business in the Caribbean is the administration of payments as the customer base in the Caribbean comes from all over the world. Sean overcame many banking hurdles and unlike many other online stores, Island Water World accepts credit cards with billing addresses from anywhere in the world. Shipping options are currently limited to the Caribbean, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas and Bermuda.
To secure online payments, Island Water World had to incorporate strict international information security procedures. Sean explains: “Our site has been certified by Thwarte, a premier international organization policing online stores. That means our store is secure. When you get to payment options where you will be entering personal information and credit card information know that the information is encrypted and safe. Payment can be made via Paypal, Visa or Master card. If you are an account holder and have been granted credit facilities by Island Water World in Sint Maarten you can charge to your account, via passwords that you control.
Ten percent extra discount for online shoppers
“At Island Water World we try hard to understand customers’ needs and we try equally hard to give him the right advice. We have incorporated this philosophy and our collective knowledge in this virtual store”, says Sean.
To give an example: A customer wishes to purchase a Windlass. She or he will be offered a wide choice with detailed product description, supported by links to manufacturer’s specs and manual downloads. Furthermore the website shows products that relate to the primary product. To stay within the example of the Windlass: a suggestion for chain or rope and various foot or hand switches, chain counters etc appear.
The website is dynamic and Island Water World will continue to feed its knowledge base and incorporate ideas of customers, suppliers and staff. Islandwaterworld.com also includes all the regular features you find in most websites – a personalized ‘Favorites’ page, a strong ‘Search Engine’, links to ‘New Items’, ‘Specials’ and ‘Promotional Items’.
What about pricing and buying? The Island Water World online store is linked in real time to the inventory in Cole Bay Sint Maarten. “If we have a product in stock, the virtual store will reflect this. The pricing is our current pricing – up to date every second,” Sean explains and adds: ”In fact you will see two prices: the store price, which is our shelf price in all our stores in the Caribbean and the online price, which is 10% cheaper. If you are a wholesale customer or a long term customer who has qualified for our cruiser discount program, you can log on and see the actual price that you will pay depending on the discount program you are on.”
Every item shown online has been weighed – a task which took a couple of months. At checkout, if a customer chooses the FedEx prepaid option and has entered the shipping destination, the freight cost will be automatically calculated. In addition to the FedEx prepaid shipping option Island Water World offer LIAT ‘Quickpac collect’, various sea freight collect options and of course store pick up at their location in Cole Bay Sint Maarten.
“We have gone to great lengths to ensure your online shopping experience is a good one. We have a fantastic interactive map that shows you exactly where we ship and what shipping options to that destination are. If you are shopping and you select a hazardous or oversize item for airfreight, the system will warn you and direct you to alternate shipping options. If you ignore this, the airfreight options will be suppressed at checkout”, Sean explains.
The virtual store is the new website of Island Water World and links to the various stores (check out the Google maps!), contact numbers and e-mails, marina and yard services in Sint Maarten, warranty and shipping polices etc.
“I am tremendously proud of our staff who have worked long and hard to build this virtual store and equally grateful to ‘Litemoon’, a Sint Maarten based media company, who have conceptualized the imagery, done the site makeover and ensured that we have been able to deliver a strong product in the simplest way. I am continually amazed at what can be achieved right here in the Caribbean” – Sean concludes.
Shop islandwaterworld.com – you might be amazed too!