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*West Marine to Carry SailingReview Content

Boating supplies retailer West Marine Inc. yesterday teamed up with SailingReview.com to become a major online source for boating products. West Marine's Web site will now include consumer opinions from SailingReview.com.

“With this deal, we hope to arm sailing consumers with valuable information that puts them at ease when making an important purchase for their boat,” said Max Mancini, CEO of West Marine and SailingReview parent ConsumerReview, Santa Clara, CA.

“Any time that we can add value in the form of unbiased product information to our customers, we set ourselves apart from our competitors,” said Tony Gasparich, Internet assistant vice president at West Marine. “We believe that the reviews will make the site more sticky and give consumers a reason to come back.”

West Marine is the nation's leading specialty retailer of recreational and commercial boating supplies and apparel. Based in Watsonville, CA, it has more than 228 stores nationwide, a catalog that lists more than 38,000 items and an e-commerce operation.

Combining all retail channels, West Marine holds 10 percent of the estimated $5 billion boating supplies market, excluding boats and motors.

“Reliability of products is the one that is hardest for us to control,” Gasparich said. “We rely on the manufacturer to provide products that perform as designed. We anticipate that the reviews will quickly bring to light any problems and that they will also promote the products that do perform well.”

West Marine's site carries reviews of electronics, plumbing, apparel, maintenance and footwear products. Reviews of sailboat hardware, navigation equipment, sailing books and publications, videos and safety equipment will follow in a few months.

Reviews are placed in the shopping section of westmarine.com. A shopper clicks on a product category, sees a listing and selects. The site then displays the product's price, model number and name. The user clicks on a product review link to reach the pertinent page West Marine co-branded with SailingReview.

In this juxtaposition of content and commerce, ConsumerReview gets a sales commission for products bought from any part of westmarine.com that has a review. The West Marine site also allows users to post opinions.

SailingReview.com has collected more than 20,000 consumer-generated reviews and photographs of boating products and free classifieds of sailing gear. Weather forecasts, reports of marine conditions and links to manufacturers' sites are also featured.

According to company data, more than 60 percent of the SailingReviewers have 10-plus years of sailing experience and another 27 percent have 21 years under their belt. Sixty percent of these SailingReview users last year spent more than $1,000 on sailing equipment.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association estimates there are 75 million active boaters in the United States. They last year spent $23 billion on boating products, including boats and motors. Sixty percent of this population is online, though figures of Internet purchases are not available.

“The online boating market is virtually untapped,” Gasparich said, “because few sailing manufacturers and boating equipment retailers have the amount of offline experience necessary to have a successful online business.”

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