What is Pet Retail Going to Look Like After the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Though it seems incredibly distant, there’s going to come a day when self-isolation and social distancing ends and we’ll be able to get back to business as usual—but how usual will it be? It’s not going to be as easy as flipping a switch and erasing the past few months from our collective memory. Though protective measures will go away, the events of these past few months will weigh heavy on the public’s conscience.
With giants like JC Penney, Lord & Taylor, AMC Theaters and 24 Hour Fitness teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, it’s a scary time for mom-and-pop shops who don’t have the funding or backing from creditors and investors. While the hope is that there’ll be a retail renaissance once stay-at-home orders are lifted, I’m not optimistic that there’ll be an immediate improvement.
Back to Business
If you’ve spent your time in isolation scrolling through social media feeds, you’ve probably come across people joking about waiting a week or so to leave their houses after everything reopens so they can see how others fair before stepping out themselves. It’s a funny notion (if a little overplayed), but it’s also foreboding.
Realistically, how quickly are people going to jump back into their pre-lockdown routines? There’s still going to be an underlying fear in the back of the public’s mind about possible resurgences or infections that may be lingering. Even with a governmental go-ahead, people are still going to hesitate before rushing out to stock up on anything other than essentials.
The biggest question is will we be able to resume life as it was? With dramatically high unemployment numbers, those who find themselves without jobs don't have much change to spare. Though there’s opportunities for temporary government assistance, it’s not money intended for frivolity. While those folks will still need their dog’s necessities, the cute plush toys and super-premium treats might be collecting dust for awhile.
Admittedly, this line of thinking is nuanced, as certain areas of the country were on stricter, longer lockdowns than others. Those in rural areas might have more confidence coming out of their self-isolations and quarantines due to less risk of running into others, while those hesitant to step back into densely-populated cities may keep relying on the super cheap, contact-free delivery services of Amazon and Chewy to cater to their pets’ immediate needs.
The lockdown also tested just how loyal self-proclaimed brick-and-mortar supporters actually are. Forced into using the services provided by online giants, they may be stepping off their soap boxes and leaning into those companies. Though retailers have expanded into e-commerce services of their own, they’re still unable to compete with the low price points those congolomerates offer.
Cleaning Up Shop
Knowing the upcoming challenges, retailers should start working on increasing the overall customer experience in their store. It doesn’t have to be high-cost initiatives that break the bank; relatively inexpensive changes include reorganizing aisles, refreshing signage, bringing sales staff up-to-date on the latest trends and planning future promotions/events.
If the financial means are there, now’s the time to seriously considering incorporating or expanding additional services, such as grooming salons, boarding or even training centers. Retailers should at least start laying the groundwork that will diversify their portfolios and give themselves a much-needed competitive edge.
Adding boarding services could be an especially lucrative venture. Travel will, at some point, resume. Experts have recommended delaying, not canceling, pre-booked trips, meaning there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Additionally, those who haven’t already booked vacations are itching to get out of their houses and for a change of scenery. I’m not even talking a month-long excursion to Europe or two weeks in the Caribbean, but rather something as simple as crossing state lines to visit family or friends for a weekend will increase as people have been deprived from face-to-face communication with their loved ones. And where do their pets go? To their friendly neighborhood pet store, of course.
The bottom line is that businesses that are able to make it through these trying times are better suited than ever to come out on top. Social distancing guidelines forced brick-and-mortar retailers to refine, or implement, online ordering and delivery services, a service that’s no doubt highly-valued by consumers, especially those that got into the habit of online ordering during their respective lock downs. Combined with their already-established rapport with their current customers, passion and industry expertise, retailers are poised to come out on top.