Smoothie King on the Web -- No Tastes

The health food and smoothie chain has a network of 350 stores across the U.S. and now it has its own Web site to introduce you to its menu

The desire for a healthy drink — and the whiff of fresh fruit — is what draws most first-timers in. Like many others before, choosing between Blueberry Heaven, Grape Expectations or the myriad of other flavors on offer is often the toughest call. Each of the drinks on the menu conjures a distinctive taste to mind, and it's only after we savor it do we realize why we keep coming back for more.

We're referring to Smoothie King, a network of over 350 stores across the US, which, among other things, offers the refreshing blend of fruits, juices, vitamins, wheat germ, and sometimes ice cream to make its namesake smoothies.

A visit to Smoothie King online surely does not replace the "in-store" experience, with its whirring sound of mixers and smiling faces. However, its virtual welcome is somewhat hospitable, with an animated smoothie cup being filled, keeping our interest alive while the site loads. An Einstein look-alike unexpectedly pops up from the side of the window, marketing the smoothie as an energy drink, and obstructs an otherwise smooth entry to the "Kingdom." Not quite the appetizer for the smoothie lover who's simply looking to enjoy the pleasures of the refreshing drink.

As you continue to explore the site's cabinets, you can't help but be distracted by a large image of a smoothie, waiting to be enjoyed. A dollop of Flash to the currently static smoothie cup might help visually display some of the available flavors, and leave a visitor's mind wandering. Otherwise, the site provides nice online features, like inviting you to indulge in "the perfect smoothie," personalized to your taste. The extensive and tempting smoothie menu allows you to filter your choices by function (low fat, muscle gain) or flavor (strawberry, coconut). An added bonus for those who are calorie-conscious is the nutritional information that accompanies each smoothie on the menu.

If your craving doesn't end with smoothies, you might want to check out the extended menu, listing a variety of other products such as hot drinks, healthy snacks, enhancers, supplements, and more. However, the information on discounts and "King Cards" seem to be totally out of place in this section.

Having reached this point, one realizes that navigating the website — particularly the use of the scroll button — is a loss of precious energy. Health-conscious visitors might be equally disappointed with the "To Your Health" section, which merely provides a peripheral overview of the importance of dietary supplements.

An encounter with the "Enter the Kingdom" section confuses the virtual visitor, and seems redundant. Thankfully, this section provides some useful information on Smoothie King, with press releases and articles on the company. Yet adding to the confusion is the "Join the Kingdom" button, which might initially be perceived as a careers section; in actuality, it invites you to be part of the mailing list and receive information on promos and discounts.

This online presence is perhaps better geared toward investors, with extensive franchise details available. Surprisingly, a direct link to franchise information appears even before the menu is displayed. A recommendation would be to introduce interactive elements, like regular contests, lucky draws, and customer reviews, to keep the smoothie fan addicted.

Although the site has the essential ingredients in place, overall it doesn't blend well. The oddly user-unfriendly layout of the option buttons (paired with the "Be good to yourself" tagline tucked away on a bottom corner as your hand develops carpal tunnel from the scrolling) signifies a somewhat unsophisticated approach to this web presence. Perhaps Smoothie King needs to focus on its target audience and realign its site to convey its brand promise in a much more striking way. While Smoothie King might have the perfect recipe for success off-line, it definitely needs a bit more flavor online to keep the virtual customers coming back for more.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.