How Technology Impacts the Pet Industry
As technology becomes a necessary part of everyday life, pet product manufacturers have found various ways to integrate it into the ways humans interact with their pets.
In today’s world, it’s tough to find somebody that doesn’t have internet access right at their finger tips. And, according to a Nielsen study, nearly a quarter of U.S. households have a smart speaker, such as Amazon’s Echo, Google Home or Apple’s HomePod. In other words, technology is becoming unavoidable.
As routine tasks become as easy as saying, “Alexa, set a timer for 15 minutes,” it’s no wonder that pet manufacturers have developed ways of integrating new technology into their products. Not only does this make owning a pet easier than ever, much of it helps increase the human-animal bond.
“In our mobile-centric world, technology is another way for owners to connect to their pets,” says Andrea Servadio, co-founder of Fitdog. “Whether pet owners are using tech to monitor health, book pet sitting or watch their pet on a webcam, it’s absolutely improving care. The more you know about your pet, the better you can understand his or her needs.”
Fitdog is a Los Angeles-based doggy daycare that provides high-intensity activities for energetic pups. The company consists of Fitdog Club, which provides daycare, boarding and grooming; Fitdog Sports, which brings dogs on outdoor adventures and offers swimming, agility and training activities; and Fitdog Training, which provides a variety of different training options.
The company has created a user-friendly app that allows pet owners to book activities for their pets online.
“The app features the ability to select different pick-up and drop-off locations, book multi-use packages, monitor payments and records, and get snapshots of dogs on their adventures,” says Servadio. “From an operational perspective, it streamlines communication, assists with fleet management, creates auto invoices for trainers and improves the overall safety for the dogs.”
Pet tech has also made it possible for owners to interact with pets while still going about their everyday activities. Often, pets are looking for engagement during times when pet parents need to be focused on something else.
Debbie and Denny Hamill, CMO and CEO of iFetch, respectively, recall their grandson, Grant’s, experience with their miniature poodle, Prancer.
“You’ve heard the phrase ‘the dog ate my homework,’” says Debbie Hamill. “With Prancer, it [was] more like, ‘I can’t even get to my homework with this energetic barking dog begging me to throw the ball every breathing minute.’”
This inspired Grant—now the sales director at the Cedar Park, Texas-based company—to ask his grandpa to make an automatic fetch machine, which lead to the creation of iFetch.
One of the most frustrating things that the Hamills often hear is that automatic pet products are for lazy owners.
“The game of fetch is inherently interactive, and our fetch toys are, too,” says Debbie Hamill. She adds that not all dogs learn to use the iFetch on their own, and therefore interaction with the owner is essential.
“Either the owner invests in the early stages of the interaction with training to help their dog master the ‘drop-fetch-repeat’ loop, or they invest their time in daily fetching rituals where they feed balls into the iFetch launchers while their dog dutifully fetches and brings them back to them to start the exchange all over again,” says Hamill.
She notes that in both these scenarios bonding is occurring, because, like children, pets want attention and praise.
While many companies have jumped into pet tech over the last decade, some have been around for over 20 years, back when this category was limited to just invisible fencing and training collars.
PetSafe, founded in 1998, has certainly expanded its product selection since then. The Knoxville, Tenn.-based company now offers a plethora of products ranging from automatic pet feeders to self-cleaning litter boxes, electronic doors and more.
“A decade ago, smartphone-integrated products were only in their infancy,” says Celeste Vlok, brand market manager at PetSafe. “In just 10 years, we’ve seen the [development] of voice-enabled technologies, wearables and other tech that pet manufacturers have tried to incorporate into products.”
She adds that while some of the novelty is wearing off, pet parents are still looking for products that better the lives of, and their relationships with, their pets. This means manufacturers are looking into how to utlize new technology and improve existing ones.
“Our pet containment systems have become more advanced over the years,” says Vlok. “Our wireless fences allow pet parents to create a virtual boundary without any digging involved. We have newer in-ground fences that actually maximize the amount of yard space that the pet can use over more traditional containment systems.”
PetSafe has also taken advantage of the technology pet parents already have in their homes.
“We recently released the newest generation of our PetSafe Smart Feed Automatic Pet Feeder, which is our first Alexa-enabled product,” says Vlok. “The Smart Feed works with your Amazon Echo device so you can quickly ask Alexa to feed your dog or cat a snack, program mealtimes and dispense food from your phone.”
The pet feeder can also alert pet parents when food is running low and be set to automatically order more food from Amazon when needed.
According to Vlok, a quarter of all pet parents say one of their main goals for their pets is to make sure they’re on a consistent, healthy routine. This was the inspiration behind Petrics, an app, website and social media forum that connects to an activity tracker on pets. The app can recommend the best nutrition options for cats or dogs dependent on their breed, age and health risks, activity level and any pre-existing conditions.
“It started with my mother,” says Edward Hall, CEO of Petrics. “She had trouble managing her pet’s health and diets. She had three cats and a dog at the time. Being a tech enthusiast myself and understanding our modern-day capabilities, I felt there must be a better way to monitor, manage and help our fur babies.”
Aside from the Health and Nutrition App, the Wilmington, N.C.-based company also developed a smart pet bed with climate control and a built-in scale to give pets the best sleep possible.
“Our mission at Petrics is to help consumers love their pets longer,” says Hall. “Through our suite of products we help pet parents keep their pets healthy, leading to better quality of life for both!”
Hall believes that retailers shouldn’t shy away from showcasing pet technology, as millennials are now the largest generation of pet owners and embrace technology more than ever before.
“The key is really understanding how to appeal and communicate with this generation,” says Hall. “If it is a brick-and-mortar retailer, do not hide the pet tech products or scatter them around the store. Make it easy to see and keep them near each other to make the awareness and decision making process simpler.”
He also notes that cross-category promotions can be strong in this category, because pet owners who are looking for automatic feeders or fountains may also be interested in interactive toys or activity trackers for their pets.
According to Debbie Hamill, a great way to draw in consumers is by showcasing the product through a demonstration or a video.
“We encourage retailers to demo our launchers in their store to build excitement with their customers,” she says. “Seeing the joy dogs experience as they play with the iFetch products is a key selling point—and a video or real-life demo is the best way to convey that to consumers.”
As the pet tech category continues to grow, retailers should embrace it as much as possible.
“We’re just seeing the start of technology in the pet industry,” says Servadio. “Pet tech makes it possible to track and recall information, access resources and monitor behavior as well as provide owners with easier, more convenient access to services and products.” PB