To say Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, has affected brick and mortar retail business would be an understatement. More and more people are shopping from the convenience of their own home, avoiding traffic, crowds and waits at malls and department stores. Best of all, it just arrives, sometimes the same day, at your front door.
And if you're one of 50 million Amazon Prime members – and that membership includes online streaming of videos and movies – you get free shipping on many of these products.
So it would come as no surprise, of course, that golf hasn't been immune to this effect. When GolfSmith filed for bankruptcy in 2016 , it was a huge wake-up call that even the most trusted, longstanding stores aren't safe.
But how much are golfers going to Amazon for their products? To answer this, Golf Datatech, the leading independent research firm for consumer, trade and retail golf trends, conducted a survey to find out. The results confirm that retailers are going to have to continue to adapt and innovate to stay competitive if they're going to maintain profit shares and loyalty from golf customers.
"Amazon is the most disruptive force on America's retail environment today," said John Krzynowek, one of two partners who founded Golf Datatech, LLC in 1995. "On the one hand, Amazon provides the consumer with an easy to use, frictionless platform that easily and efficiently delivers products to their doorstep in one click. On the other hand, Amazon unsettles long established relationships, often negatively impacting the brick and mortar retailers of the world. This is not just an issue for the golf business, but something that impacts almost every retail category."
The 2018 Amazon Impact Report analyzes attitudes and opinions of 1,200 serious golfers about their overall shopping experience, as well as their perceptions of Amazon as a retailer of golf equipment and apparel. The analysis is based upon data collected in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Most importantly, this investigation asked whether Amazon is having the same effect in the golf retail sector that it has had on so many other consumer product categories.
The short answer: It is.
What the study found out is that 42 percent of those surveyed had bought a golf product of some sort from Amazon in the past 12 months, and they intended to buy golf products in the future.
Also revealed was that the no. 1 reason golfers bought from Amazon wasn't price; it was convenience, which is no different than consumers of most other products (Although I have found some very good deals on items like electronic cords and household items that were far cheaper than buying them in actual stores).
The survey also showed what types of golf products golfers were buying online, and it was mostly consumables like golf balls, shoes and apparel. They were less likely to buy clubs because serious golfers nowadays want to be able to get a custom fitting or at least demo or feel the clubs. Sure, some golfers might go to a demo day, not buy the club there, and then look to Amazon for a deal, but those seem to be the exception more than the rule.
How brick-and-mortar stores can fight back
Both Krzynowek and his co-founding partner, Tom Stine, are Amazon Prime members themselves and use Amazon like most consumers. These trends, though, "don't necessarily ring to the doom of brick and mortar golf stores," Stine said.
"Nothing is better than personal service," he added. "Nothing is better than going into a store, any store, and being greeted by a real person, a person to show you what you are interested in, and someone you feel like is an expert at this, or at least is very knowledgeable and can help with your selection."
Of course, many golf retailers and companies already have their own online business, which certainly helps, but will probably never match Amazon's reach when it comes to convenience and sophisticated algorithms.
Physical golf retailers can take heart in other examples, though. For instance, while the idea traditional bookstores seemed destined for the graveyard, that's doesn't seem to be true anymore. Regular bookstores appear to be making a comeback in recent years.
"It's because the booksellers adapted, and gave the customers another reason to go into the bookstores," Stine said.
In New York, for example, the number of Indie bookstores has been increasing since 2009, and one of the reasons, is that they have become social places, offering interesting conversation and an atmosphere for like-minds to become a community.
So what can golf learn from this?
First off, golf stores have to be interesting, and maybe even entertaining. PGA Tour Superstores, for example, do so much more than sell balls, clubs and shirts. Not only can you demo equipment there, but you can get lessons and even take part in simulator competitions, which are especially attractive in the offseason when golf courses might be closed.
Most importantly, golf stores, whether they be green grass or off-course, have to offer outstanding customer service. Sales people need to take a real interest in their customers. Best they can, they need to establish relationships with them. Ask them about their game – or their lives for that matter -- and learn to read how much they want to share with you. At the very least, sales reps need to appear vested in their customers game. Those partnerships are difficult to establish online.
How is all this going to unfold? To help answer the question, Golf Datatech plans to continue surveying on this topic, conducting a new study in the next 12-18 months. It should give some answers on trends. Maybe golfers use Amazon more, maybe not.
"I think this movie has just started," Stine said. "We're barely into the first 30 minutes of the movie. And we're just going to have to see how it plays out."
Are you among the many golfers buying their golf products from Amazon instead of golf shops, or do you still prefer purchasing items in-person? Let us know in the comments.