Why buy a driver, putter or set of irons online? The better question just might be, why not?
I know, I know, there are still certain purchases consumers want to put their hands on, so to speak. They often prefer to try on that sweater and feel the material, or make sure those shoes fit just right on their feet.
For years, golf clubs fit under that category of a personal item players just had a difficult time pulling the trigger on as an e-commerce purchase. That’s why the large box stores invested in indoor hitting bays and synthetic putting greens where golfers could hit a driver or irons or make a putt or two before forking over cash for the club.
That’s a totally understandable formula for a lot of golfers, but one North Carolina-based company has made it easier than ever to log on to your computer in the comfort of your home and shop for virtually thousands of different golf clubs.
Already regarded as the world’s top sales center of preowned golf clubs, Raleigh-based GlobalGolf launched its U-Try new club trial program in March. For a nominal fee, golfers can order new clubs off the company’s website and try them out for a two-week period. For example, a driver costs $25 to test, while a set of irons is $100 to hit.
If the club or clubs are what you desire, then keep them and GlobalGolf will deduct the trial amount from your purchase. If the club is not for you, then simply return it using a prepaid label included in a box.
“You get to try the club at your leisure, at your home course, using the golf ball you normally use, in an environment that is comfortable,” said GlobalGolf founder and CEO Ed Byman. “You are on that third hole and you know you always hit it just a little short of that bunker and with the new club you hit it 5 yards past the bunker so that’s immediate feedback. Now, all of the sudden that guy can feel it, touch it, and spend some time with it. If he feels like he plays better with it he can keep that club and purchase that exact same club. If he doesn’t think he plays better with it stick it in the box and slap the return label on the box and send it back.”
“We think we’ve overcome that last hurdle of people buying new clubs in the online environment,” he added.
Unlike most, GlobalGolf is in a unique position to receive used clubs back in the mail. In reaching out to technology savvy golf enthusiasts and the growing eBay marketplace, GlobalGolf, which was founded in 2001, rapidly grew to be the leading online seller of preowned golf equipment. In 2006, the company moved beyond eBay by launching its own proprietary website, GlobalGolf.com, and within a few years created a huge market for the acquisition and sale of preowned golf equipment.
“We feel we have two nice franchises out there — one being pre-owned and one being the U-Try experience,” Byman said. “Nobody else has the back end to do it like we do. If you get half the new clubs back what do you do with them? You have to sell them in a pre-owned environment. We are very uniquely positioned to be able to do that.”
GlobalGolf sales for 2018 were north of $60 million with Byman expecting more than 400,000 orders to be shipped this year. The company now has 130 employees.
“The scale is just nuts,” he said. “I can remember the early days when we shipped 1,000 items and we thought that was a big deal.”
If you walk into GlobalGolf’s fulfillment warehouse in the shadows of Raleigh-Durham International Airport your jaw will drop. There is merchandise from all the leading manufacturers stacked as high and as far as you can see.
Why the growth? Why the popularity?
“Well, certainly there is a value proposition associated with pre-owned product,” Byman said. “You can get something that was launched and came out in February and we may start getting those clubs in April or May, and it’s 25 percent less than new. They are demos, they are rentals, and all of our sites take trades from consumers. So, the value proposition is one thing but we sell brand name, high-performance golf clubs that are pre-owned. It’s not out of a garage and is a bunch of junky junk. Once people saw the quality of the product they were getting, and the value proposition — and we were going through some tough economic times — that sort of played into it being very attractive to a lot of golfers. And then we became really good retailers.”
So what exactly is a “good retailer” when it comes to golf e-commerce fulfillment?
First, a company’s website must be easy to navigate and even easier to check out. GlobalGolf has that covered. And then there is getting the product to consumers in a timely fashion. Most of GlobalGolf’s business comes from English-speaking countries, but the firm does get orders from all over the world, including places such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Europe.
“We have a piece of software that is an algorithm that measures the best way to get the clubs to you in the time frame you want and at the most economical cost, and then you choose the method,” Byman said. “About 99 percent of the clubs are out the door within 24 hours or your order via FedEx, DHL or the U.S. Postal Service.
“You have Amazon out there and the consumer wants to be treated in a certain way — pages have to load quickly, it has to be easy to check out, they want the club as quickly as they can get it. You have to execute on that or you won’t be successful. We’ve been fortunate enough to deliver on that and scale as time went on.”
Byman says his firm, and others in the golf industry, is riding the winds of change when it comes to the nation’s spending habits. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates consumers spent $513.61 billion online in 2018, up 14.2 percent from a year earlier. In 2017, e-commerce sales accounted for 9 percent of all retail sales in United States. That figure is expected to reach 12.4 percent in 2020, according to Statista.com.
“We continue to grow our company,” Byman said. “Every year of our existence we’ve grown. That’s phenomenal in this environment, especially when you think about what the golf industry went through in 2008 and 2009.”
“We now have merchandising teams, creative teams, customer support teams, IT teams; we’ve got a whole engine here that services our sites and delivers on the consumer’s expectations.”
Heck, if folks buy cars online now without a test drive why not a set of golf clubs?
David Droschak was an award-winning writer with The Associated Press for 20 years. He was honored with the Sports Writer of the Year award in North Carolina in 2003. He lives in Apex, N.C.