Study: New boat purchases up, consumers begin search with used

Recent data from Dominion Marine Media and Info-Link provides a sampling of current boat buyer trends, suggesting an upward trajectory in new boat purchases.

Dominion Marine Media partnered with Info-Link to release a study analyzing boat purchasing trends across three of DMM’s websites. The findings come from an evaluation of 2.3 million customer leads generated across their sites between October 2010 and September 2013.

They found that around 28 percent of these leads were new boat purchases compared to 72 percent pre-owned. The industry averages for 2013 were 18 percent new and 82 percent pre-owned. shows 33 percent of its users purchased new boats versus 67 percent pre-owned, which Boat Trader just behind at 29 percent versus 71. Yacht World showed a lower split of 20 percent versus 80 percent.

Pontoons lead the way in new boat purchases, with 46 percent versus 54 percent pre-owned. More pre-owned cruisers are sold than new, with 80 percent pre-owned purchases versus 20 percent new.

Courtney Chalmers, vice president of marketing at Dominion Marine Media, believes this is largely attributed to inventory levels.

“Most of our leads have a significantly higher propensity to purchase new in those market segments that are recovering more quickly,” said Chalmers.

The company has seen many of its users submit leads for certain types of boats but eventually purchase a different brand. While consumers start their search for a pre-owned boat, many choose to purchase a new boat instead.

“Often times, people start their search with a brand that they know,” said Chalmers. “Once they start doing research, they realize there are other boats out there that have different features.”

Brand promotion should be a high priority for OEMs, according to Chalmers. It’s the first place consumers, particularly new boaters, start searching because they are familiar with a given brand. She also notes that while some OEMs still invest heavily in traditional media, these trends highlight the need to emphasize online marketing efforts.

“It reinforces the importance for OEMs to really promote their brands and get those brand names out there,” said Chalmers. “Users are online, they are conducting the searches, submitting leads, and then going all the way to the purchase funnel.”

Chalmers suggests dealers should take note of this high volume of new boat purchasers across DMM’s sites.

“If we know that, for instance, 28 percent of our leads are purchasing a new boat versus the 18 percent market wide, what value does it have to a dealership business,” Chalmers said. “If you’re not using one of the DMM sites and we have this volume of users coming to us to purchase a new boat, what opportunity are you missing?”

The study indicates the market for new boats is improving and returning to pre-recession levels. The company plans to release more data supporting this theory and comparisons to pre-recession numbers in the coming months.

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