The Cybercritic: Pet Supplies

This month The Cybercritic goes to the dogs…well, to Websites selling products for dogs and other pets’s home page offers a cornucopia of features, including links to new items, a pet library, and a buyers’ guide. Then again, so do other sites selling pet supplies. At first glance, I see nothing to differentiate it from the competition.

As I drill deeper into the site, though, I end up finding everything I could possibly ever want, and more, for my pets — and for animals, such as snakes, that aren’t likely to find a home with The Cybercritic. If you do snuggle up at night with a reptile friend, however, this site is a good spot for items such as Shed Ease (to “promote the emergence of healthy skin”) and reptile calcium supplements.

In addition to offering a dense product selection, the site has a comprehensive search engine and is highly organized, with departments for a half-dozen types of pets (including dogs, cats, fish, and “small pets”). Further evidence of the site’s product depth: When I search for scratching posts within the cat department, I find five items ranging in price from $16 to $25.

Not only does PetSmart offer lots of merchandise, but it provides informative copy as well. The Plaque Attacker Dental Dinosaurs, for instance, are described as “an easy way for pet owners to provide their dogs with good, daily dental health. These unique therapeutic chew toys from Nylabone feature raised tips that actually massage gums and protect against tooth loss and gum disease. They last up to 10 times longer than regular chews….” The adorable photos of pets using the products (rather than dull product shots) enhance the shopping experience.

I click back to the scratching posts and spring for the high-end version (hey, just because The Cybercritic is on a budget doesn’t mean the cat should suffer!). A window promptly confirms that I have put one item into my shopping cart.

Normally, I would now check out, but I find myself veering off to explore both the offer of a free emagazine, PawsPectives, and the pet community section, where I find information on pet care, links to charities and shelters in my area, and photo contests. These features entice visitors to remain on the site long enough to buy more treats and toys for their little friends.

Overall rating: 8.0
Brand identification: 6
Fun quotient: 9
Graphics: 8
Depth/assortment: 9
Navigation: 8
Ease of ordering: 8
Overall ease of use: 8
Timeliness: 8
Loyalty efforts: 7
Information collection: 8
Search capabilities: 9
Privacy policy: 8

But I muster my willpower, and once I find my item is in stock I check out, only slightly over budget.

The Cybercritic loves Petco’s distinct graphic look — vibrant, eye-catching colors and graphics with an avant garde vibe. But sadly, Petco didn’t lavish as much attention on its product copy. For shame!

Here’s the complete product description for the Gumabone Pooch Pacifier: “Naturally flavor enhanced Gumabone Pooch Pacifier encourages chewing that reduces tartar buildup.” Never mind the poor grammar (it should be “encourages chewing, which …”). Online copy functions as the salesperson, anticipating questions and compensating for the fact that customers cannot touch or feel the products. How am I supposed to discern between two similar products with different price points?

Petco, which also operates a chain of more than 500 stores, tries to cross-promote among channels and media. On the home page, for instance, I can get a 30% discount by typing in a promotion code found in the Petco advertisement in a local Sunday paper. (That’s good news, considering the $25 I already spent on a scratching post!) But to sign up for its P.A.L.S. loyalty program, I need to go to a Petco store!

At least the site is well organized. Like many other pet supplies sites, products are grouped by pet type. As I cruise through the Cats Shop, I find a good variety of items as well as an Ask the Experts section.

Overall rating: 7.6
Brand identification: 8
Fun quotient: 5
Graphics: 8
Depth/assortment: 8
Navigation: 8
Ease of ordering: 9
Overall ease of use: 8
Timeliness: 9
Loyalty efforts: 4
Information collection: 8
Search capabilities: 8
Privacy policy: 8

Another plus: The shopping cart functions pops up immediately at the bottom of the screen when you select items to add to it. But that doesn’t compensate for my having to get out of my comfy chair to join Petco’s loyalty club.

The Website of the Drs. Foster & Smith catalog stays true to the brand’s positioning as a resource for expert veterinarian advice as well as pet supplies. Rather than featuring a dozen or so product shots, the home page is dominated by one large photo of a dog. Below the photo are links to several products and product categories as well as to an article entitled “Keep Your Old Pet Fit.”

The home page also displays a seal from Consumer Reports, a live chat link, and photos of Doctors Foster and Smith themselves in white lab coats holding a puppy. And there is even a link to click on that instantly bookmarks the page on your browser. This is one of the most clever — not to mention unobtrusive and inexpensive — ways to inspire return visits that I have seen.

Like the other online pet catalogs, this site offers a wide and well-organized variety of products. If you own a snake or a goldfish, though, you’re out of luck: Drs. Foster & Smith specializes in products for canines and felines. The exhaustive Pet Education section, however, includes articles on all species of pets, from ferrets to iguanas.

The copy is wonderfully detailed: “Gum massage and effective plaque removal combined — what more could you ask for in an enjoyable dog toy? In any size you could imagine, meat-flavored Plaque Attackers can ‘nip’ dental problems in the bud with their unique raised nubs. Available in two different textures — bone-hard Nylabone for your super chewer or flexible yet firm Gumabone for a dog with a softer bite.”

To reduce shopping time, the site has a catalog quick-order option, allowing you to input a product number directly from the catalog. And when you check out, the site provides a place for you to give specific delivery instructions (for instance, if you’d like the package left between your screen door and your front door). All in all, this site demonstrates the importance of details to the shopping experience.

Overall rating: 9.0
Brand identification: 10
Fun quotient: 9
Graphics: 9
Depth/assortment: 7
Navigation: 9
Ease of ordering: 9
Overall ease of use: 9
Timeliness: 10
Loyalty efforts: 9
Information collection: 10
Search capabilities: 8
Privacy policy: 9

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