Today’s pet parents are looking for litter box models that give them more time with their cats and minimize the ick factor of the litter scooping chore.
As innumerable as the delights of pet parenthood are, having a kitty companion isn’t all cuddles and purrs. For most cat parents, the main thorn in their side is the daily chore of cleaning the litter box, and consumers are looking for ways to make the task easier and less disagreeable.
“No one wants to deal with litter box problems for their cat; it’s not enjoyable,” says Jacob Zuppke, vice president of sales and marketing at Automated Pet Care. “We are seeing a trend toward automated pet products to give pet parents more time with their pets. From automated feeders to litter boxes, there are more companies arising in the tech pet space, trying to address age old problems with highly functional technology.”
This move toward automated technology in litter boxes is the primary driving force behind innovation in this category. Since litter boxes are necessary for every house cat, change comes from the growing demand for ease and convenience.
“The litter box category is a very strong category to be a part of because cat parents will always need litter boxes. The growth stems from continuous innovation with litter box design and the implantation of technology,” says Rachelle Rabasi, director of marketing at OurPets. “The common thread with the successful litter boxes, especially the more expensive units, are whether they actually provide value to the consumer and make their life easier.”
While a lot of litter box manufacturers have focused on box design–making covered models or models that can easily blend in with household décor–these design changes are not necessarily what consumers are looking for.
“The thing that all of those solutions have in common is that the customer still has to scoop litter daily,” says Ryan Anderson, PetSafe category manager for waste management. “That is where our self-cleaning litter boxes, such as ScoopFree and Simply Clean, come in, as they do the dirty work for the customer. Instead of touching the litter box daily, they can leave it for weeks at a time.”
Because more customers are looking for automatic functioning in their pet products, many manufacturers have started developing and selling their own self-cleaning litter boxes or other easy clean solutions. By necessity, these are more costly than the traditional plain plastic bin, but retailers shouldn’t shy away from offering them as a key part of their selection.
“These litter boxes do cost more than traditional ones, but as more and more customers are willing to pay for convenience, retailers should be stocking these types of solutions to round out their selection,” says Anderson.
In the past, many pet parents might have opted for lower cost products, rather than those that were more convenient or had a higher one-time cost but would save money in the long run. However, now the trend is shifting toward high-quality products that can make consumers’ lives easier, with less of an eye on the price.
“We are past the point where consumers are only looking for the least expensive solution,” says Terry Hannaford, CEO of Omega Paw Dog & Cat Accessories. “They are willing to pay for a product that effectively meets their needs and that they perceive as a quality product.”
Educating Pet Owners
Despite being willing to pay more, a large portion of consumers don’t know about the litter box options that can make for easy cleanup. It falls on retailers to help their customers be aware of these by offering a range of different automated or easy-clean litter boxes.
“Aside from litter boxes being an essential product for every cat parent, many consumers are unaware of some of the kinds of boxes that are available to them,” says Rabasi. “Priority placement in the stores can grow awareness to the category overall, and by showcasing different types of boxes, the store may be able to match the type of litter box with the specific needs of individual consumers.”
There are numerous litter box models, each of which approach the problem of easy cleaning differently. For example, some self-cleaning litter boxes, like the PetSafe ScoopFree and the OurPets SmartScoop, have a classic open pan style and operate with a rake mechanism that separates clumped litter from clean litter and deposits it in a tray. Automated Pet Care’s Litter Robot, on the other hand, has a globular structure that rotates after each use to sift out litter clumps, leaving a clean bed of litter behind. The Omega Paw Roll N’ Clean operates similarly to the Litter Robot, but with human operation, removing the unpleasant task of sifting out litter while reducing costs, since there are no automated parts.
“Retailers really need to do a good job of educating consumers at the shelf with the different options available to them,” says Rabasi. “A new buyer is generally unaware of the ‘little things’ or accessories that can make the litter box duties easier, reduce odors and keep the area clean. It all depends on what the new buyer is looking for and their level of dedication to their litter box duties.”
Pet parents also have different needs that will be suited to different litter boxes. Because of this, it is essential for retailers to stock and be educated on a wide range of litter box models to help pet parents find the best match for their cat.
“In order for a retailer to put together the best possible selection of litter boxes and accessories, they first need to educate themselves on what type of litter boxes there are and which ones would be best for their customers,” says Hannaford. “For a retailer to offer the best selection, they need to evaluate every box within the category and ask: Is this the best one for my customers?”
Knowledge of the features and benefits of each litter box, found both in an informed retail staff and signage, is key in helping customers make informed decisions.
“The more information [retailers] can provide, the better,” says Anderson. “The automatic litter boxes cost more than standard litter boxes, so customers will want to know why they should spend more for this product that they’re not familiar with.”
This broad range of automated and easy-clean litter boxes can make them hard to sort through for pet parents, especially those looking to upgrade their litter box but with no idea where to start. Arranging litter boxes based on their benefits and features will be a useful tool to help them get started in finding the litter box that is best for them. For example, a ranking of automated litter boxes based on how often the collection tray needs to be changed would be helpful for consumers with less time on their hands, allowing them to select an option that fits their lifestyle without negatively affecting their cats.
“It would be in the best interest of pet retailers to carry these sorts of products and build apps [or] ordering products to serve the customer needs through the new technologies,” says Zuppke.
The most important thing for pet specialty retailers to remember when stocking easy-clean litter box models is that these products should respond to the needs of the consumers and their cats.
Anderson says, “The main reason to carry these is because customer preferences and expectations are changing when it comes to the litter box, and so should the solutions we are providing them.”