It is pet, it is mart, and it is smart. Petsmart.com is a survivor of the dot-com bloody battle for your pet's tender paws and stinky odor. At the height of the technology boon, Pets.com, Petstore.com, Petopia, and Petsmart were heavily competing in cyberspace, and all of them were abundantly funded. Besides their surprisingly undifferentiated names, the main issues against their success included that pet owners were less likely than others to shop online and pet supplies were virtually ubiquitous, as they can be purchased in virtually any supermarket, grocery store or local daily without having to wait for delivery.
This extravagant era was typified by Pets.com sock puppet, which gained almost cult status. The dog puppet was regularly interviewed on talk shows and made a notable appearance in a TV commercial during Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000, the American equivalent of the World Cup. Despite the slick marketing campaign, Pets.com stumbled, as did many of its competitors, and eventually announced its bankruptcy. Archrival Petsmart.com later acquired the domain name Pets.com, which still redirects browsers to www.petsmart.com.
A visit to the Petsmart website reveals a clean e-commerce home page. The logo retains the bouncing dot (a double entendre with the ball of your playful pet) of the pre-bubble era, but sheds the suffix ".com," which is soooooo last century. The theme of the bouncing dot/ball, although overplayed by many dot-coms, is nevertheless nicely delivered as a watermark on the site.
From a branding viewpoint, the site is almost entirely functional in layout and does not generate much emotion. This is a dangerous position to be in since the warm and fuzzies will keep users returning to one site over an equally functional competitor. It's easy to make a site work well, creating an emotional connection with the user is quite another thing.
Another problem that this site suffers from is that naming scheme for menu options is not especially descriptive. The overly specific names signal that perhaps the site has outgrown its product line. Wild Birds brings up a section almost entirely dominated by feeders for squirrels. While we can see why this was lumped in with Wild Birds (squirrels and birds go hand in hand), we're not sure that we'd know to look under the heading Wild Birds had we been searching for ways to indulge our resident squirrels. Horse, on the other hand, is completely given over to clothing (for people). An ad for horse de-wormer is about the only indication of the equine focus we'd hoped to find here.
As for the overall design, the white background and colorful product display reminds us of the grocery flyers that stuff our mailboxes. It is appropriate for Petsmart offline brand but it lacks differentiation. It is surprising that a business that can easily tap into the love pet owners have for their best friends cannot simulate a warmer brand identity.
Ironically, in its minimalist style, the site is well aligned on the perception that Petsmart's big box stores give (ie, there's not a lot of brand identity at the bricks and mortar retail level either). It is important to align the branding of all the contact points with the customer, so from that perspective Petsmart.com does well. However, we suggest that Petsmart unleash some creativity on its identity altogether, rather than reduce its web presence to the level of the bricks and mortar entity.
Perhaps Petsmart could work on creating a brand that will make people want to shop for supplies as much as they want to please their pet.