How Are Consumers Shopping for Their Pets?



After reviewing the results of Pet Business' latest consumer survey, it’s disheartening to see that the majority of shoppers pointed to big-box stores or online merchants as their destination of choice. There’s only so much independent retailers can do to remain competitive, and when the most important factor to consumers is convenience, how can a brick-and-mortar business even try to compete?

Well, let’s slow down and take it one step at a time by first tackling the challenge of online retailing. Pet Business’ Retailer of the Year, Pet Pros, is no stranger to the dangerous curve e-commerce can throw at an independent retailer.

“To say e-commerce can be tricky for the small, independent pet retailer is an understatement, especially when competing against big players with seemingly unlimited resources,” explains Pet Pros’ general manager, Georgann McConn.

Tricky, yes, but not impossible. After a period of trial and error, Pet Pros has successfully staked its claim in the e-commerce world.

Instead of shouldering the burden on its own, Pet Pros turned to an e-commerce platform called etailpet to help them its online business off the ground, to great effect.

It can actually be tougher to directly compete with a big-box store. Most people stopping at their local Petco or PetSmart aren’t looking to make a day of it—they want to pop in, get what they need and get right back out.

In all honesty, it may be better if shoppers don’t view your store simply as a quick stop-off in the middle of running errands. Granted, those couple extra dollars from a bag of dog food would be nice, but I’d argue that perhaps retailers should strive to be a little more than just a quick in-and-out stop along the way.

As we take a deeper dive into this, let’s keep in mind that the two biggest deciders in where consumers shop for pet products comes down to  convenience and price.

First, think about your love for animals and why you’re in this industry. Chances are you didn’t decide to jump into this venture on a whim. You planned, you ran the numbers and, most importantly, you educated yourself
and still continue to do so. Then, you found other like-minded individuals, imparted your knowledge onto them, or perhaps you collaborated with them. Either way, your store is filled with passionate workers who are looking to help in any way they can.

A pleasant shopping experience and a friendly staff are invaluable assets to rounding out the idea of drawing customers in more frequently. I know firsthand how much pull a salesperson has. I used to work in retail, and, on my bad days, I saw customers take one look at me and then immediately search for one of my coworkers who was visibly more upbeat.

Not everyone’s “on” all the time, but there is a lot to be said for a reliable, friendly and well-educated sales staff.

Now, competing with convenience is tough, and price isn’t much easier, either... but there may be a silver lining.

The overwhelming majority of those surveyed explained that promotions and discounts were somewhat important or very important to them. This isn’t to say to spontaneously hold a 50 percent off sale whenever business is slow, but having a promotion, something that’s somewhat and very important to consumers, may be just what you need.

A “promotion” is a lot simpler than it may sound. It’s often as easy as reaching out to vendors and seeing how they can help your business. After all, you are in a symbiotic relationship
you depend on each other’s livelihood.

You can even reach out and tap into local figures in your pet community. Perhaps you can come to a deal with an already-established gourmet biscuit maker, or try your hand in it yourself. You can collaborate so that after customers spend X amount on items, they get a free gourmet biscuit of their choice. It’s a free item for a shopper and free(ish) press for the bakerwin-win.

The two most popular items that consumers shop for in-stores is toys and food. In this case, it’s about being able to add-on the lesser-purchased items to complete a selection.

Let’s start with toys: it doesn’t get easier than that. Generally, people aren’t picking out toys by themselvesBuster’s coming along to test it himself. Luckily, toy manufacturers make this job relatively easy for you, as toys usually feature minimal packaging. Make sure pet owners know toys cover a broad area and just one toy doesn’t cut it. There’s enrichment toys, puzzle toys, tug toys, fetch toys and treat toys, to name a few, and they all have their own place in a pet’s life.

On the other hand, food doesn’t sell itself as easily. As I see it, there’s three different types of pet food shopper: The new owner, the established veteran and the switcher.

First-time pet owners will be looking for guidance when it comes to choosing their first pet food, which is where you can really flex your animal nutrition smarts and establish yourself as the pet food guru.

The long-time pet owners know their brand, know where it’s kept and know its attributesbut do they know about the importance of supplementing their pets’ diet?

People don’t switch pet foods just for the fun of it. They’re either not happy with the results they’re seeing from their current food or they’re trying to combat or get ahead of a new problem. Make sure you listen to their needs, talk with them and help guide them to a solution.

Although the findings about how pet-related services and pet-centered events is a little disappointing, let’s take it for what it is. Yes, most people said pet-related events don’t make a difference, but the majority also said they don’t attend or just somewhat attend. In my experience, I’ve found that it’s fairly difficult to judge something and decide it’s not important if you’ve never even attended it.

At first glance, I’d agree that the findings don’t necessarily provide an overly-optimistic look into the upcoming year. What needs to be focused on is reading between the lines and seeing what isn’t said in order to successfully sell to modern pet parents. 

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