Grasping Gen Y

Millennial pet owners speak out about how retailers should market their businesses to draw this generation into stores.




When you get down to basics, Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. That means that these individuals are no longer children and they need to be taken seriously. More than half of Millennials are in their thirties. They make up the majority of working Americans, with 87 percent taking on management roles in the past five years, compared to the 38 percent of Gen X and 19 percent of Baby Boomers who took on management roles. The power of this generation, both monetarily and vocally, is only going to continue to grow and retailers need to make them the focus of their marketing efforts.


In regards to the pet industry, we already know that Millennials are waiting to start families and view their pets as “starter children.” We know that they are the most educated generation, are more conscientious when making purchases and will often splurge on an item for their pet before themselves. Ninety percent of the generation is on social media and shares photos of their pets an average of three times per week.  But the question is, how do retailers take all this information and use it to get more Millennials to frequent their stores?


Digital Draws

While Millennials didn’t grow up always having the internet like those in Generation Z, they have adapted to the point where it’s a necessity. Millennials touch their phones on an average of 45 times each day, making it no wonder why the internet is where the majority of their information comes from.


“Ads are most likely to reach me via the internet,” says Lianne Cagnazzi, a 30-year-old medical resident in Raleigh Durham, N.C. who has a pet dog named Louie.


Millennials expect businesses to have an up-to-date, visually pleasing, responsive website that can be viewed on a smartphone. Websites should be clean and easy to navigate.


Arielle Napoli, a 25-year-old cat mom in New York City agrees that online advertising and websites are extremely important. “If I had known my [local] pet store existed and had the selection that it did, I would have started shopping there sooner,” she says. If your website is out-of-date, doesn’t have mobile capabilities or looks like it was made more than five years ago, remedying this needs to be your next step toward ensuring the survival of your store.


Social media is another important aspect of branding your business. How a shop is portrayed visually speaks volumes about the business itself.


“Social media is a huge game changer in the way consumers, specifically Millennials shop,” says Jennifer Cao, co-founder and designer of ZippyPaws. “Millennials are mindful of not only what’s popular, but what looks good photographed too.”


Being a Millennial herself has definitely helped Cao target this booming audience, which is evident in ZippyPaws’ success, as well as the company’s 59,000 Instagram followers. Pet businesses lend themselves to be social media goldmines due to the fact that they revolve around cute animals, so why not take advantage?


“Pet retailers have the best advantage in that nothing is cuter or more appealing than pets,” says Shama Hyder, founder and CEO of Zen Media, a web marketing and digital PR firm.


Hyder also says that businesses need to inject a little personality into their brand if they want to attract the connected consumer. Pet retailers should figure out what sets them apart from everyone else and use that to steer their social media accounts.



Standing Apart

Online shopping is a huge part of the Millennial lifestyle, especially for those who live in large cities and don’t have cars, but small businesses are often not equipped to handle online sales. If your store is located in a city and you can’t factor online sales into your current business plan, consider adding delivery services.


“My pet store has a better selection than Amazon, but Amazon delivers,” says Napoli. “It’s worth the walk for me because it’s so close, but I assume if I had to get on a train or in a car I wouldn’t want to make the trip.”


The convenience of having large bags of food delivered to your door instead of lugging it for multiple blocks or on public transportation is ideal. However, just because Millennials are shopping online because of convenience, that doesn’t mean they’re not shopping in stores. Variety is key to getting these consumers into your business.


“I think it’s important to keep in mind that there is very little price variance on essentials, but Millennials love to purchase things they don’t see everywhere else,” says Cao. “The key is to be open to stocking great new products, to offer buyers something fresh and a great new experience every time they pop into the stores.”


Stores need to promote these special items that customers won’t be able to get elsewhere. “If you sell something really beautiful or unique—for pets this is often beds or leashes or collars—put it out front and sell me on the dream,” says Dean Praetorius, a 29-year-old dog parent living in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Also, give customers a reason to come back. Many are coming to your store because of your knowledge, but if your customer service and benefits aren’t worth the trip, they’ll shop elsewhere.


Praetorius suggests a loyalty program to guarantee repeat customers. “Smart businesses can reward repeat customers and ensure a higher volume of purchases,” he says. “If I’m not incentivized to keep shopping with you, after the initial recommendation I’m going on Amazon to find what you just sold me at a cheaper price.”


If a shop is more focused on selling food and treats, it needs to carry brands and products that aren’t available in other nearby shops or online retail giants. Stores also need to be aware of how consumers are shopping. If the aisles in a store are too small to walk down easily or if products are overflowing off the shelves causing potential hazards, this is going to steer customers away.


Kasey Stevenson, a 29-year-old mother from Brookville, N.Y., notes that she doesn’t buy her pet food online like most of her peers because doesn’t carry the brands she buys. However, she chooses to go to Petco over her local pet store because of its layout.


“The [local] store is super crowded and not easy to navigate—I have two kids, so the ease of shopping is a huge factor,” she explains.


Above and Beyond

Pet businesses can no longer consider themselves just a place of transaction—if that’s all a customer wants, they can easily do that online. Consumers expect to be able to go to their local shops and get more than just supplies. They expect an experience.


“The gold is in making it an experience when customers come in,” says Hyder. “Brick-and-mortars have to focus more on customer service and the overall experience than ever before.” She adds that she still goes through the drive-thru at the bank because they give her dog a treat and her dog loves it.


Having a bowl of treats for pups that come into the store, or hosting birthday parties, education classes for children or dog training classes can give consumers a reason to come in. Make your store a destination for pet owners to come and hang out.


“Millennials love taking their pets to socialize as well. Maybe consider offering a dog treat decorating class for a fee, or letting customers have a beer and meet other dog owners on Sunday afternoons,” says Cao. “The idea is to offer customers a personalized in-store experience they can’t get from buying online.”


Stores can also consider hosting event days in correlation with other organizations in the area. Millennials want to know that the stores they frequent and brands they buy are contributing back to the community.


“Maybe if a small business pet store had some kind of special event—like an adoption day for cats— that would increase awareness and traffic to the store, and might make people think they care more about finding the animals good homes than about making money,” says Stevenson.


Brick-and-mortar retailers should also consider working with local veterinarians. Cagnazzi notes that while she looks around the internet for reviews, recalls and other information, she runs things by Louie’s veterinarian when she has any questions. Millennials are more likely than their predecessors to rely on information from their vets.


“We ask a lot of advice from the vet,” says Praetorius. “We even tried a dog meal service at one point, but that was far too costly and our vet actually didn’t think the food was any better than what he was already getting.”


If your store carries the brands and products local vets recommend, the vet can inform pet parents that they will find the products being suggested at your store.


When it comes down to it, pet retailers need to just be aware of what their customer is looking for and continue to find new and creative ways to give that to them.


“We know that Millennials are very loyal to brands if they continually see a value added from that brand,” says Cao.  PB


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