The Cybercritic: On the Links

In this issue the cybercritic looks at golf products websites

www.golfsmith.com

Reviewed April 30, 8 a.m., on America Online

Golfsmith’s home page, or ProShop, as this site cleverly terms it, is refreshingly neat. It displays several promotional items without creating clutter and highlights a low-price guarantee to establish value. And it establishes authority with a banner across the top (which appears on all subsequent pages) that includes the logo, a depiction of a long fairway, and the tagline “The biggest and best in golf…online.” Simple, but effective. Golfsmith.com does not abandon its mail order roots, though. It features an express order form for catalog customers and the 800-number on each page. A bonus: You can convert the site into Japanese, Spanish, Dutch, French, or Italian with a click of a button.

The Golfsmith.com Clubhouse (an opt-in e-mail service that will send you golf tips and alerts to special promotions) and the Leaderboard (which in partnership with GolfOnline.com provides updates on tournament scores) inspire customer loyalty, make the site fun, and are brand-enhancing. But the site’s Boutiques feature is a branding nightmare. Here the site provides a link-off system to well-known golf brands. A fine idea — but these frames do not have the Golfsmith logo or any consistent graphics or colors. It is at this point that the marketer may lose some shoppers.

The Cybercritic gets sidetracked from shopping — hard to believe — by some of the articles. I also sign up for a game analyzer (yes, I occasionally remove myself from the cyberworld to hit the links). But while these features may temporarily distract visitors from doing damage to their credit cards, they will encourage golfers to return again and again — and buy an extra glove or another sleeve of balls while they’re there.

The navigation certainly doesn’t distract. The two search engines, one by manufacturer and one by product type, lead me directly to my destination, the Odyssey Dual Force Blade 330 putter. Just for kicks I look for the Odyssey Rossie II, since a friend swears by this mallet type of putter, only to find that it is “no longer available.” I cannot tell if it is out of stock, discontinued, or backordered. With the flexibility for quick change that the Web offers, I strongly suggest the site take the item off the page if it is no longer available and be more specific in the copy if it is backordered.

The copy on the site is very matter-of-fact. And as a matter of fact, it could be more enticing and less awkward. For example, while browsing for drivers I find this copy block: “Specially designed Bi-Matrix high-modulus lightweight graphite upper shaft allows maximum swing speeds for more distance, while the 8″ steel tip helps create a lower more penetrating trajectory.” Sure, it provides the product benefits, but in a somewhat graceless manner.

My other beef is with the checkout. When it comes time to tally up the costs, the shipping charges aren’t included. I’m also disappointed to see that orders are shipped within 48 hours, not the same day. Worse, weekend orders are not processed until the following Monday. To confuse me even more, the site says that if the order is in by 9 a.m. Central time, I can have it shipped that day via next-day or two-day UPS service. Huh?

rating
www.golfsmith.com Golfsmith’s overall rating: 7.9
Brand identification: 7
Fun quotient: 9
Graphics: 8
Copy: 6
Product depth/assortment: 9
Navigation: 9
Ease of product ordering: 6
Overall ease of use: 8
Timeliness: 7
Loyalty efforts: 8
Information collection: 8
Search capabilities: 9
Privacy policy: 9

www.edwinwatts.com

Reviewed April 30, 10 a.m., on America Online

From the minute you hit the Edwin Watts Golf home page, it’s clear that you are beholding the site of a multichannel marketer. The 800-number and the cover of the current catalog are prominent. If those don’t help to establish authority, the company’s tagline, “Golf’s most trusted retailer since 1968,” certainly will. So does the link to the thorough and jargon-free privacy protection and security page, which is found conspicuously at the top of the home page. There’s also a prominent invitation to opt in to receive e-mail notification of specials.

All six sale items displayed on the home page are tempting. I select the link for the featured Armour stand bags, delighted at the thought of saving $40. The thumbnail product shot on the product page cannot be enlarged, which is annoying, but I figure I can get some details about the bag from the product copy. Wrong. Here’s the description in its entirety: “Available in Black/Green, Black/Blue. More colors coming soon! 8.5 Inch Stand Bags.” Obviously Edwin Watts is excited about these new colors, but I certainly am not!

I use the search engine to find the Odyssey Dual Force Blade 330 putter; the link to the product page appears like magic — especially impressive when you consider the exhaustive breadth and depth of the merchandise mix.

Surprisingly, the putter copy rates more highly than the stand bag’s description:

More victories, more putters in play and more money won on the four pro tours combined

Special trapezoid-shaped stronomic insert creates a smooth roll while reducing skidding and skipping.

Heel-toe weighting for optimum forgiveness on off-center hits

Provides superior feel and unmatched control

Three inserts available — Firmer for slow greens, softer for fast greens.

The price is the same as at Golfsmith — $89.99. It’s in stock, so I add it to my cart. And checkout is a snap.

So all in all, Edwin Watts proves to be a good experience. It could stand to inject more fun options on the site and hire a new copywriter (or maybe just hire a copywriter, period). But it’s a solid, authoritative source for every product a golfer could possibly need.

rating
www.edwinwatts.com Edwin Watt’s Golf’s overall rating: 7.9
Brand identification: 8
Fun quotient: 5
Graphics: 7
Copy: 4
Product depth/assortment: 10
Navigation: 9
Ease of ordering: 9
Overall ease of use: 9
Timeliness: 8
Loyalty efforts: 7
Information collection: 8
Search capabilities: 9
Privacy policy: 10

www.golfcircuit.com

Reviewed April 30, 1 p.m., on America Online

Why go with a marketer like Golf Circuit? Probably price. But any savvy Net shopper would shrink from this site after a glance at the amateurish home page. The graphics are extremely small and fuzzy, and the fonts are generic at best. I suspect that rather than consult a Website designer, the brains behind this operation duped themselves into thinking that they could scan in some product shots and slap them up on the Web and that people would buy in droves.

And maybe bargain hunters are buying in droves. The site sells my beloved Odyssey Dual Force Blade 330 for $79.99, $10 less than Golfsmith and Edwin Watts. But even so, the putter still costs more than I feel comfortable spending with a company that displays such a low-rent site. For all I know, this is some fly-by-night storefront that will take my credit card information and then disappear.

With some cosmetic surgery, however, Golf Circuit could reinvent itself like Joan Rivers. If it hired a designer and created a brand-building logo and tagline, it could be a force to reckon with. For in a number of ways, the site’s pretty good.

The copy, for instance, takes a breezy, conversational tone. Here’s how one product description begins: “There is one thing that all golfers want; to make their game shorter.” It continues a bit in this same chit-chat tone before listing all the technical details. Another great idea is the “don’t forget” window that pops up to cross-sell and promote additional items once you hit the checkout stand.

Then there are polls, a golf travel planner, the Daily Rules Situation (which gives a scenario followed by an explanation of what golfing rules, if any, apply), and the Daily Instruction tips. All of these are surefire ways to keep customers and prospects coming back again and again and again.

As far as The Cybercritic is concerned, however, these fun features don’t compensate for the lack of a privacy and security policy. This glaring absence ties in to the lack of branding and credibility evident on the home page. Though the prospect of saving money is tempting, ultimately this site gives me fewer reasons to order than it gives me reasons not to order.

rating
Golf Circuit’s overall rating: 6.1 www.golfcircuit.com
Brand identification: 3
Fun quotient: 7
Graphics: 4
Copy: 8
Product depth/assortment: 7
Navigation: 6
Ease of product ordering: 9
Overall ease of use: 7
Timeliness: 8
Loyalty efforts: 6
Information collection: 5
Search capabilities: 9
Privacy policy: 0

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