I was certified in West Virginia (not exactly the dive capital of the world). I got certified, but there were no dive shops near where I lived. Where did I go for dive gear? The internet.
I purchased my gear and all was well. I was fortunate enough to pick an internet store that was actually an authorized dealer of my gear. Being a safe, conscientious diver, I sent my gear to Florida for its annual service. This was in January.
Come March, Mt. Storm, WV usually gets back up into the 60s...time to dive. Problem was that my gear was still in Florida. After several phone calls and three more weeks, my gear was returned to me. This happened for the next 3-4 years.
Finally a dive shop opened near my home. Since they were authorized dealers of the same gear, I just let them do my annual service. The first time I took my regulator in, I received a call two days later. The technician asked when my last service had been and how many dives were on the reg since that time. I told him that it was serviced 11 months earlier and roughly 60 dives were on it. He asked me to come by the shop when I could.
I went to the shop and he asked who had service the gear. I told him and bored him with my tales of trying to get it back in a reasonable time. He asked me if I took good care of my equipment after diving. I said, "of course". I always thoroughly rinse my dive gear after diving. That's when he showed me this little fuzzy, green cone. I, of course, asked what it was. He explained that it was the filter from my first stage. He further explained that he did not believe that the filter had ever been changed in the time that I had owned the regulator. Needless to say, I was not pleased. There was no way that diving that regulator was safe.
Now what to do. I called Florida and got "don't know, we serviced it". I wasn't really going to go to Florida just to jump down someone's throat and they knew that. Why should they care, they have a huge internet business. They weren't going to go out of business just because I was mad. I think it goes without saying that I have purchased all my life support from a local dive shop since.
I have heard similar tales from other divers over the years. Some of them bragged of how little they paid for there gear, then found out why when they got a box of regulator parts. They were even more upset when it came time for service and found out that they bought from an unauthorized dealer that would not do their annual service.
Many had sense enough to take their regulator parts to a local shop to be put together and tested. Some did not, they simply screwed everything together and jumped in the water. I sometimes asked them why they did not have their gear put together by someone trained to do so. "If I did that, I would pay the $100- $150 that I saved by getting it online," was the most common response.
As a former police officer, I know the importance of having well maintained gear when/ if things go bad. I cannot grasp the mentality of spending hundreds of dollars on training and gear, then been cheap with $100 when it comes to having life support put together by someone who is properly trained. It just seems to me that we waste $100 on things much less important than our own safety.
When you go to a brick and mortar dive shop, you know the people there. Most shops, like ours, assemble and test your gear before you take it home with no additional charge. If you are an active diver and/or hang out at the shop, you tend to be friends with the instructors, owner(s), and technicians. They are willing to do rush jobs when you forget your gear until a week or two before your trip. If something is not right, you can go directly to them and they will accommodate you with personal service that you're not able to get from the internet.
I write this as a diver, not a shop owner. I have experienced the problems with internet purchases. Even if you find a good deal, with good service via the internet, you still have the added expense of shipping every time you need service. I am not saying that all internet deals are evil, but when it comes to life support at least consider your local dive shop before just looking for the cheapest you can find. Consider the trade off of convenience, service and long term costs before you buy. Once you weigh all the pros and cons, I think you'll find that your dive shop is a better deal than you first thought.