Pet Tech Gets Smart
New advances in pet product technology are changing not only how owners interact with companion animals, but also how retailers approach category sales.
Technology today has really gone to the dogs—and cats. Modern technology is quickly changing every aspect of our lives, including how we interact with our pets, from feeding and playtime to monitoring and care.
“At OurPet’s, we feel that a lot of these changes in the pet tech world are coming from the desire to understand and become closer to your pet,” says Rachelle Rabasi, director of marketing for Fairport Harbor, Ohio-based The OurPet’s Co. “Everyone loves their pets, and they want the best for them, so products that increase the level of communication and care for pets are becoming more important.”
This emphasis on care is part of a larger shift of pets from companions to full-fledged family members. In fact, nearly all pet owners today—95 percent according to a 2015 Harris poll—say they consider pets part of the family.
“New pet owners are entering the category with a ‘parent’ mindset in greater numbers than in the past. These owners increasingly will do whatever they must to provide the best for their pet,” says Heberto Calves, chief marketing officer for Stamford, Conn.-based Smart Pet Technologies, LLC.
Another driving force behind this pet tech trend is millennial pet owners. Approximately 31 percent of pet owners (43 million) are between the ages of 18 and 34 years old, according to a report from Rockville, Md.-based market research publisher Packaged Facts. Another report by Arlington, Va.-based Wakefield Research found that 69 percent of millennial pet owners are likely to use technology to keep track of their pet.
Tracking is a major priority amongst modern pet parents. Owners want “a way to know their pet is safe and that they are doing what is best for their pet. In short, peace of mind,” says Calves. And tracking products like Smart Pet Technologies’ Link AKC smart collar gives them an easy way to ensure their furry family members are safe.
The Link AKC collar and its corresponding app allow owners to check their pets’ location anywhere in the U.S. using GPS and the AT&T cellular network. It also gives them the power to create a temporary virtual fence, and if Fido leaves this digital safety zone, users automatically get an alert.
In addition to tracking, the Link AKC collar also provides owners with meaningful insight into their dog’s health and wellness with precise activity tracking and personalized activity level recommendations. Other features of the smart collar include the ability to take photos and record videos, as well as remotely turn on sound for training. It comes in four sizes to fit a variety of dog breeds, is water resistant up to a depth of three feet and includes a battery that lasts up to five days.
Other popular pet products with modern tech upgrades focus on adding efficiency to pet care. “Pet parents are looking for products that actually provide value through functionality,” says Rabasi. “If they are going to pay a premium price for high-tech products, they are expecting a functional benefit along with ease of use.”
The OurPet’s SmartLink Waterers and Feeders, for example, take the guesswork out of keeping pets fed and hydrated. As part of the company’s Intelligent Pet Care line, the devices pair with a Bluetooth-enabled SmartLink Tag to automatically dispense food or water when a pet is near.
Using a two-tier design, the SmartLink Waterer activates a water cycle every 40 minutes for optimal freshness. The device also sends information to the user’s smartphone app to help monitor pets’ drinking habits, water reservoir levels and temperature. The SmartLink Feeder detects when pets wearing the SmartLink tag approach and delivers the appropriate food for that tag. This design is perfect for multi-pet households since it prevents feeding conflicts, safeguards diet-sensitive meals and keeps children out of pet’s food.
Technology is even being used to make unpleasant chores, like cleaning up after pets, a little easier. OurPet’s SmartScoop litter box, for instance, uses infrared technology to detect when cats enter and exit the box. Once kitty has done her business, the device automatically pushes waste into a bin to keep litter fresh at all times.
Selling Pet Tech
Since the category is so new, Rabasi emphasizes the importance of education. “There are a lot of people who don’t really know the full capabilities of smart pet products and how they could use these types of products,” she says. “Consumers need education on the products and will have a lot of questions, at least until pet tech becomes more mainstream."
An informed sales staff is the first step in consumer education. Employees should be familiar with pet tech merchandise and be able to effectively express the benefits. “This way store staff can ask consumers the right questions to really understand how they use their current products and then add in how a high-tech version will benefit them,” explains Rabasi.
Let’s say a customer comes in and explains that their cat has a history of elimination problems. Instead of a traditional litter box, a salesperson can recommend an intelligent litter box like SmartScoop, which can send information straight to the customer’s smartphone, saving them time and hassle.
In addition to well-trained staff, retailers should utilize in-store signage and displays to further customers’ education about pet tech products. Pull-out fact sheets, aisle interrupters and point-of-sale displays can act as extra salespeople, pointing out key product capabilities.
Tech products can be shelved in traditional aisles—smart litter boxes with litter, smart feeders with food—but retailers may also find it helpful to create a tech-only display. This can be especially effective in promoting new pet tech arrivals. Plus, it positions the retailer as the go-to source for the latest and greatest in the category.
Another key to making the most of the category: curating the right product selection, says Calves. While this may seem like a no-brainer, retailers should be thoughtful when choosing new offerings.
Customers are already cautious when it comes to new products, especially those that come with a premium price tag, so the last thing retailers want is to alienate them by putting ineffective products on the shelf. To cultivate a great stock selection, retailers should thoroughly research new tech products and consult with merchandisers about best practices.
While pet tech is still a relatively new category, it’s one that will undoubtedly continue to grow in the future. With an informed team and innovative sales strategies, retailers can grow and evolve too.