The Cybercritic: Skate Gear

The Cybercritic turns skate rat to check out Websites selling skateboards, snowboards, and related gear.

California Cheap Skates

Reviewed Jan. 28, 1:00 p.m., Explorer 4.5
(www.ccs.com)

California Cheap Skates, or CCS, has been selling skateboards and related accessories by catalog for 16 years, so it’s no surprise that its Website makes ordering a skateboard or a snowboard online a snap.

The CCS site clearly knows its audience of hipster skate rats and boarders — and their parents. For example, the Protective Gear products subcategory features a photo of a helmet and kneepad, along with copy that reads: “Parks + Parents = Pads. We know you don’t want to wear them, but we also know you want to skate. Keep both of them happy and check out the gear CCS has to offer.” The site also offers a section called “Educate Me Now!,” with information about how to buy a skateboard for “those not in the know.” What’s more, CCS goes the extra mile to explain various types of skateboarding terrain, such as ramp or street, and the skateboard decks and components appropriate for each.

As for the basics, the home page design is fluid and clean, with icons for the skateboard and snowboard products categories, the catalog request link, community features, and news about CCS’s pro skateboard team. An icon for the company’s comprehensive privacy policy sits at the right of the navigation bar, which stretches across the top of the page; the company’s 800-number is on the left.

The site pages load fast with straightforward graphics and text. Special product offers are showcased in boxes labeled “Spotlight.” While the Website does not offer a keyword search for its extensive selection of products, it does allow customers to search by item number from the catalog, or by preset product subcategories located in each of the main product categories.

Using the latter method can be more trouble than it is worth, though. For example, the Outlet Store products category includes subcategories for shoes, backpacks, and snowboards, among others. But it takes three clicks from the home page to reach the Skateboards subcategory, only for The Cybercritic to be told that there are no sales on skateboards at that time. Growl.

rating
Overall rating: 8.7
Brand identification: 10
Fun quotient: 9
Graphics: 9
Depth/assortment: 10
Navigation: 9
Ease of ordering: 10
Overall ease of use: 9
Timeliness: 8
Loyalty efforts: 8
Information collection: 10
Search capabilities: 2
Privacy policy: 10

Cool Sports

Reviewed January 28, 2:20 p.m., Explorer 4.5
(www.coolsports.org)

The home page of Cool Sports is riddled with icons for merchandise categories and site information, though it features surprisingly few photos. If Cool Sports doesn’t carry the product a shopper is looking for, a quick glance at the home page will make that clear.

Chances are, though, that boarders will find what they want, given the extensive merchandise selection. Cool Sports even sells products such as scooters, bikes, and in-line skates, which aren’t found on many other skate/snow gear Websites. And the site is easily searchable, with a product-category navigation bar on the left of each page.

The site’s minimal use of graphics makes for quick load times. And the home page prominently displays the company’s 800-number. Glaringly absent, however, is the mention of a privacy policy, which is a black eye on what proves to be an otherwise pleasant ordering process. But the offer of free shipping on all U.S. orders of $50 or more quickly lightens The Cybercritic’s mood.

While Cool Sports has little in the way of community-type features, it does provide shoppers with a plethora of links to other informative and amusing sites, including Weather.com for the latest skiing conditions and CollegeHumor.com to cheer the grumpy skater. It also offers information about the company’s internship program, which allows college students to represent the company as brand managers on campus. Not a bad gig, especially if it comes with discounts on merchandise. The Cybercritic thinks it might be time to go to graduate school after all.

rating
Overall rating: 7.3
Brand identification: 9
Fun quotient: 7
Graphics: 6
Depth/assortment: 10
Navigation: 10
Ease of ordering: 10
Overall ease of use: 10
Timeliness: 9
Loyalty efforts: 7
Information collection: 0
Search capabilities: 10
Privacy policy: 0

Jester

Reviewed Jan. 28, 1:45 p.m., Explorer 4.5
(www.jester.com)

The eggplant-and-neon-green palette of Jester.com’s home page is certainly clownish enough, but beneath the slow-to-load Flash graphics there’s a broad merchandise selection along with community perks that make this site worth taking seriously.

The home page lists the site’s product categories: Snow, Skate, Gear for Women, Gear for Men, and Music/Electronics, the details of which are highlighted by mouse-overs (copy that appears as you move your mouse across the icon). The home page features an “on-sale” merchandise category upfront, but The Cybercritic has to scroll down to find the link for the privacy policy, which can be found only in minuscule type at the bottom of the page.

Navigation is extremely easy, thanks to the ever-present navigation bar on the left side of the screen. And special offers, such as one for a CD music compilation called Summer of Slam, pop up in “daughter” windows throughout the site. (The Cybercritic, however, finds this more annoying than informative.)

The promotions and community features, in fact, are numerous. A “wish list,” for one, allows boarders to post requests for gift-givers to see. The site also features product reviews, horoscopes, and countless give-aways. And then there is the Jester Lodge, a virtual-reality chat room that enables shoppers to talk with one another in a variety of settings. For example, The Cybercritic could choose to discuss music with others as an animated “shopper” in a record store. This feature is so much fun that even the most ardent of skaters and boarders might forget they came to the site to shop — which might not be such a good thing for Jester.

rating
Overall rating: 8.8
Brand identification: 8
Fun quotient: 10
Graphics: 8
Depth/assortment: 10
Navigation: 9
Ease of ordering: 9
Overall ease of use: 9
Timeliness: 8
Loyalty efforts: 8
Information collection: 8
Search capabilities: 10
Privacy policy: 9

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