As the transition from spring to summer nears, there is reason to be hopeful that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. Social distancing efforts have "flattened the curve" of new infections enough that a phased reopening of the economy has begun in many parts of the country, and there are indications that a game-changing treatment and/or vaccination to prevent COVID-19 could be viable by early next year, if not sooner.
While additional waves of infection remain a real possibility as the public emerges from quarantines, now is the time to start thinking about what pet stores will be facing after this crisis finally subsides. With that in mind, here are three factors that every pet specialty retailer should consider when devising a strategy for doing business in a post-pandemic environment.
Despite predictions of a "V-shaped recovery," the recessionary forces unleashed by shutting down the U.S. economy for several weeks will surely present a variety of challenges and opportunities for pet retailers in the months ahead. For example, we can probably expect to see further polarization within the dog and cat food categories, as some pet owners deal with tighter budgets, while others, inspired by all the quality time they spent with their pets in quarantine, trade up to super-premium brands that they perceive to have a higher quality.
There are basically two ways pet stores can deal with this type of polarization—either adopt a "good, better, best" approach to product selection that will attract the broadest customer base, or lean into an "only the best" approach that caters to shoppers who are willing to pay more to provide their pets with high-quality nutrition. Only retailers know which direction will best suit their business and their shoppers, but in either case, it is vital to commit to the chosen strategy across the store’s product selection and clearly communicate it to customers.
New Weapons for B&Ms
One the biggest positives that came out of retailing in the period of social distancing is that many pet stores were able to build or expand their e-commerce capabilities and home-delivery and/or in-store pickup options.
This should be a valuable weapon against the ongoing encroachment from online outlets like Chewy and Amazon, but retailers should not rest on their laurels. Now is the time to further develop this emerging part of the business by refining and considering ways to expand the store’s approach—perhaps, for example, by adding subscription delivery options for pet food. Chewy, in particular, has had a lot of success with its subscription-based business, which accounts for up to 70 percent of its revenue.
While some form of social distancing is likely to continue until an effective "cure" or vaccine is widely available, once pet owners are comfortable resuming their old shopping habits, they will surely be craving the type of in-store experience that many independent pet stores excel at providing.
With that said, it would be wise of retailers to take the time now to ensure that their store environment is aesthetically pleasing and highly shoppable, as well as refine their strategy for training and deploying staff to the best effect. After all, that’s what made many independent pet stores strong enough to survive the chaos wrought by COVID-19. Now it’s their prescription for success in the post-pandemic retail environment.