The “Amazonization” of Golf, Part II: Golf Apparel

In Part I we explored a general overview of how Amazon is impacting golf retail, in Part II we dig deeper into how Amazon is impacting the sale of golf apparel, and in Part III (coming soon), we will analyze Amazon and golf equipment.  

Golf Apparel is a difficult product to easily define and measure, because a polo shirt sold at Target, Nordstrom’s or PGATSS could all be worn to play golf.  Or to the office.  Or to mow the lawn.  Where the product is sold is as important as what the product is when defining “golf” apparel.  There are many brands that specifically focus on golf apparel, and in the process use design and/or material differences to create products that work best for golf, however in reality that same product could have multiple uses, and once it leaves the shop, store, or warehouse no one knows what it will be used for.  Whereas in golf equipment, there aren’t a lot of alternate uses for that new driver you just bought…it’s pretty much going to be used to play golf, or be made into the worlds most expensive tomato stake.

For the sake of our discussion, we are assuming “golf apparel” consists of clothing designed and sold primarily to be used for playing the game, and most frequently sold by those that focus on golf.  However, that is clearly not a hard and fast definition, as the page below demonstrates…Amazon is a major factor in golf apparel, and golf is but a tiny fraction of their total sales.  And for context, according to many experts that track general retail sales in America, Amazon passed Macy’s to become America’s largest apparel seller in 2016, and without a doubt it has only increased their leadership position since.

How Amazon Sells its Own Product…First

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 8.54.31 AM

On a recent day I went to the Amazon website and entered “Golf Apparel” in the search box, and what you see above was how the site delivered possible matches to my inquiry.  It will  surprise no one that works with or follows Amazon that the first product delivered to was their own “Essentials” line, at extremely competitive pricing. In 2016 Amazon made a significant investment in broadly expanding their private label business in several product categories, and the Essentials line is a representation of how they compete in golf apparel.

It’s no surprise that Amazon’s highly proprietary and closely held search engine (known as A9) placed its own product first, followed by other brands determined via algorithm, which no one outside of Amazon comprehends.  There are hundreds of online articles and consultants hoping to guide individual brands thru the steps toward improving their standing inside Amazon searches, so this post will let those experts take the lead, and instead we’ll focus on the bigger picture of perceptions of Amazon and golf apparel.

Macro Level Golf Apparel

Golf Datatech estimates the On/Off Course channels sold over $1.1 billion in golf apparel in 2017, an increase of nearly 6% vs. 2016.  Of that, well over 3/4 of those sales are made in a Green Grass golf shop.

Prior consumer research by Golf Datatech suggests over one half of all golf shirts being worn today feature a golf club/course logo, making a large part of the golf apparel market impregnable to anything Amazon can do to make itself a viable competitor to a local golf shop.  Instead, Online sellers (including but not limited to Amazon) as well as Off Course Specialty stores, are left to battle for more basic apparel items that do not have logos, and are often entrenched in a price battle.  And pricing is an area where Amazon often, but not always, has a step up over the competition.

Buying Golf Apparel From Amazon

In “The Amazon Effect” we specifically probed consumers about what products they have purchased from Amazon in the past, as well as those they are likely to buy in the future, and Golf Shirts topped the future list, along with Shorts/Skorts, Jackets, Rainwear and Sweaters all among the top 10 products in golf.  While most golfers likely won’t buy all their golf apparel thru Amazon, they are very likely to view it as a place to buy some items, particularly those which typically don’t feature a club logo, such as bottoms.

And to keep matters in perspective, while Amazon is definitely a player in selling online golf apparel, in the big picture it still remains worth mentioning that only about 20% of total respondents to the Amazon Effect survey have ever purchased a single piece of golf apparel from the site.

Impact of Amazon Prime

Prime members are significantly more loyal to the platform, and it is no different when it comes time to purchase golf apparel.  Those who are members of Amazon Prime are far more likely to be looking toward buying golf apparel on Amazon.  Once Amazon can convince a consumer to agree to pay them to be a “member”, their loyalty to the platform increases exponentially.

Brand Strength and Product Differentiation Matters

The objective of Amazon’s search engine is simply to optimize the customer experience for the buyer while maximizing revenue per visitor for Amazon.  The opaque nature of the search engine, along with the knowledge that Amazon’s own product will likely be featured at the budget price points, makes the platform very challenging for any manufacturer attempting to sell basic golf apparel.  However, if the manufacturer has a well-developed consumer brand, is well designed, has a technology story or material difference built into their product, they stand a good chance to break thru and sell a lot of product on the platform.

Looking Forward

Amazon is ideally suited to sell their own “Essentials”  line of price point golf apparel, however their inability to compete with golf course logos means a significant piece of the category will never be within their reach.  Additionally, branded non-logoed golf apparel will always be available thru Amazon, either direct from the manufacturer, or thru secondary sellers, however that same product could also be purchased thru competing websites, or in person at a traditional brick and mortar retailer.

As Amazon continues to expand, grow and become even more fully integrated into the retail fabric of America, their impact on golf apparel will be substantial, however many golfers still enjoy the experience of personal engagement that only occurs in an actual retail environment, either in the Pro Shop, their nearby Golf Specialty Store, a Sporting Goods store, or a major retailer.

For anyone interested in purchasing the full “Amazon Impact” consumer report, focused specifically upon the apparel category, please email or click on the link below for more information and pricing. 

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