What Walmart's Latest Move In The Pet Category Means For The Industry



Last week, our report about Walmart's decision to discontinue the sale of pet fish was seen by many in the industry as a decidedly positive development—but I don't see it as being that simple.


Of course, few would argue that the mass retailer did a good job caring for the livestock in its stores or educating customers on how to care for their new pets once they brought them home. However, given that some experts estimate that Walmart was responsible for as much as 30 percent of tropical fish sales, the loss of this source of pets is inevitably going to be felt across the aquatics category. This includes not only the tropical fish farmers who were supplying Walmart with livestock—some of whom counted the mass retailer as their biggest (or only) customer—but also aquarium product manufacturers, and even specialty retailers who deal in aquarium products. 


To fully understand the widespread impact that Walmart's decision to get out of the pet fish business, one has to consider that a majority of its fish sales were impulse purchases. Few, if any, established aquarium hobbyists were perusing the mass retailer's livestock displays for new tank inhabitants when they popped in to pick up toilet paper, socks and some groceries. It is far more likely that the sale of a pet fish represented a customer's initial entry into the world of aquarium keeping, and every new hobbyists is invaluable in a category that has clearly faced challenges over the past several years. Not only would these new aquarium keepers need to purchase supplies to care for their pets, as they advanced in the hobby, they would almost certainly end up eschewing Walmart's pet aisles in favor of a local specialty retailer that offered better information, service and product selection. 


Without this—albeit imperfect—source of new aquarium hobbyists, let's hope that we see more pet retailers embrace the aquatics category and help expand aquarium ownership. While retailers like Petco, PetSmart, Petland and Pet Supplies Plus are still doing much in this regard, it seems that many of the fastest growing chains are uninterested in getting into the fish business. That's too bad, because in a competitive environment where retailers are looking to provide customers with an "experience," aquariums full of beautiful and interesting life can be a great way to make a splash.


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