Social Strategy

Online marketing tools can be invaluable, especially for those savvy retailers who know how to capitalize on the appeal of the live animals in their stores.




The news on retailers seems to be all doom and gloom lately as it gets harder and harder to get customers off their computers and into stores. Pet stores cannot fight the internet on pricing or convenience, but they do have many advantages over non-pet retailers in terms of being able to create great experiences for people with furry, feathered and scaly “kids.” Approximately 67 percent of homes have at least one pet, according to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, so the customers are out there. Through strategic use of online marketing tools, you can bring them through your doors.


It used to be that great customer service and knowledgeable staff brought in customers and earned their loyalty, and these factors are still vital to help a pet store stand out. But competition with the internet has changed the game for all retailers, even large chains and big box stores, which are being hurt just as much as, if not more than, independents. So what can a store do to keep their customers’ attention and even increase sales?


The key for pet stores is providing incentives for customers to physically come in. Once you have them in front of you, you can sell them on the value of paying regular visits. Strategies like providing loyalty cards, hosting events, offering specials, regularly bringing in new products and pets, providing in-store services like nail trimming or bringing outside services like microchipping in for a day can help attract new customers and encourage return visits. Retailers should also network with other local businesses to find opportunities for cooperation—for example, partnering with a veterinarian so that new pets at the practice receive a $10 gift card to use at the store, and vice versa.


But without the right marketing support, these services and promotional efforts won’t have much of an impact. Retailers need to use all the tools available to them, especially online, to let potential customers know about the advantages of shopping at their store.


Most stores don’t have the resources to hire a dedicated marketing manager, so the retailer must rely on themselves or their staff to implement marketing programs. Scheduling time is the first step. Make a plan for yourself or a staff member to work on marketing for a certain amount of time each week, and build those hours into a specific time in the schedule. If needed, block out time to educate yourself on the various options for online marketing.


Facebook offers lots of opportunities for smaller businesses that may have limited time and budget to dedicate to social media. With more than two billion members, this is the No. 1 online platform for marketing. It’s easy to create a page for a business, and you can advertise on Facebook for a low cost compared to other forms of advertising. Facebook’s targeting capabilities also allow you to focus in on local pet owners who are the most likely to become your customers. However, because Facebook frequently changes its algorithms and advertising options, you may need to invest in training or hire someone part-time to best manage your page. For example, recent changes have made it so videos show up more on users’ News Feeds than photos, so retailers should consider what kinds of videos they could make to promote the store.


Facebook provides a way to do live video, which has numerous potential applications for pet retailers, especially those with in-store pets to feature. Birds make great video subjects, with their natural visual appeal and vocal variety. Showcasing the ones you have for sale can be a great way to attract visitors to your business’ Facebook page and, in turn, the store itself.


Retailers can also use videos to promote new products, seasonal items, holiday-themed displays and so on, but be sure to explain the value of the product. For example, if you have a new birdcage in stock, talk about what makes the cage great, like huge feed cups or a built-in cage skirt. To promote bird toys, make a video explaining the importance of giving birds new toys, especially once they’ve chewed up or worn out the ones they have. Retailers could try offering a limited-time special price on the new product in the video to help convert social media engagement into a sale.


It’s important to have posts that are educational and therefore helpful for pet owners. In some cases, this can be connected with products as well. A post could talk about how important it is to change out any toys or perches made out of rope or wood every six to eight months for pet birds, and then offer any customer who mentions the post a great discount on any perch and toy purchases for a limited time. Of course, posts should focus on whatever categories of pets that the store caters to, whether that is primarily dog and cat or includes birds, small animals, fish or other exotics as well.


Posts should not be only about selling product, as that could turn off your social media following. Have posts that are just for fun or to promote events, or consider holding contests on your page. For example, host a pet bird photo contest and give all participants five percent off their next purchase, with a special prize for the winner. It’s great to have posts like this that require some sort of action from the reader because they help build a store’s following and expand its overall reach on social media.


How often should a store post on Facebook? Although it’s best to post at least once a week, two to three times seems to be ideal. If you do too little, you may lose your audience; and too much might turn them off. The exception for this would be when a store has a special event. Then it’s OK to post more than usual to promote it.


Keep written posts short and, when possible, have a video or a photo with them. Video length can vary depending on the topic, but try to stay focused and to the point. If you’d prefer not to be in the video yourself, no problem. You can just narrate while showing the product, event, service or new pets, or see if any of your staff members would like to serve as the on-camera personality.   PB


Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.


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