Man with his dog and laptop at home

Our industry has not only changed, it has evolved our offerings as a result of a new generation of pet parents under the age of 40, who have become the largest buyer demographic in record time. The demand for tech-enabled shopping had every reason to push sales out of the neighborhood and alienate indie pet retailers from their market base. While we know that COVID-19 and it’s variants have drastically changed pet parents’ comfort levels outside of their homes, it is refreshing and exciting to see the silver lining that it brought loyalty and business back to the corner store. 

However, while sentiments to “support local” are good, the demand for goods and services to be secured online and delivered at the customer’s doorstep are new norms that must be embraced by your business in order for pet parents to become indie pet advocates. 

IndiePet, the association representing the independent and neighborhood pet retail industry, asked founding sponsor member eTailPet to provide insights into why e-commerce is important to all retail stores. Here are the five reasons offered by eTailPet founder and CEO Berenice Giannini:

 

1. Pet Parent Demographics

Underestimating the buying power of the millennial pet parent could lead to grave results, since they outnumbered Baby Boomers in 2020. Today, 42 percent of pet parents are under the age of 40, and a whopping 76 percent of them have pets, according to YPulse (ypulse.com), a youth research and insights firm. Many millennials have foregone having children or aren’t ready for them quite yet and have decided to make their fur babies the focus of all their love, attention and disposable income. They have changed the landscape for the pet industry. 

Millennials and members of Gen Z are interested in feeding their pets human-grade food that is both healthy and sustainable. Buying from their neighborhood, independent pet store allows them to purchase premium food while also contributing toward a sustainable local option.

In an article published on its website, YPulse says that, for pet owners under the age of 40, “Taking good care of their pets is a priority: Significantly for this budget minded generation, they are more likely to say they buy the highest quality pet food available than the cheapest available—and almost one in five say they have gone without something to make a purchase for their pet instead.” 

Millennials and members of Gen Z (aka Digital Natives) have grown up with a phone in their hands, and that’s how they navigate the world, especially their shopping habits. They expect retailers to have online options available to them—it’s how they shop. Retailers need to secure them now as life-long customers, as their purchases have the most longevity.

 

2. Pet parents Want to Shop Online

Covid has changed the way pet parents want and expect to shop. We have been conditioned to order online at any time of the day or night. Shoppers like the convenience of being able to purchase a late-night order from their phone while sitting on the couch or realizing they ran out of food for their furry family member at 5:00 a.m. and quickly place an order for pick-up later that day.

This is not a new concept. However, Covid propelled us light years ahead of what we expected trends to look like for e-commerce purchases. In 2019, pet e-commerce was slated to grow at an annual rate of 11.3 percent from 2020-2007, according to Grand View Research. However, Nielsen released data currently revealing a 34-percent increase in e-commerce sales and pet food is at $10 billion for 2021.

The big dogs like Chewy and Amazon have taken advantage of the e-commerce growth. In the first quarter of 2021, Chewy saw 32 percent year-over-year sales growth and added six million new customers—and that’s just one quarter.

It is vital that your business have an online presence, not just a website. When pet parents are looking for specialty items the first place they go is Google, and you need to meet them right where they are. Ninety percent of people are searching for businesses online each month and only the most optimized business profiles show up on the first page. If you’re not on the first page, you’re not winning their business.

When you show up on searches, you get 230 percent more website visits, 35 percent more calls, and 72 percent more direction requests, which equals new customers and more sales, according to So Connect, a digital solution provider that specializes in helping local businesses succeed online. 

 

3. Pet Parents Want to Shop Local

Now, you may have known pet parents are searching online, but did you know that 74 percent of shoppers search for information such as the closest service provider, store, locations, hours, directions and contact info before contacting a local service provider or going to a store?

“Where to buy” and “near me” mobile searches have grown by over 200 percent in the past two years—and 50 percent of the “near me” searches result in a visit or call. 

People want to support local, 72 percent of consumers who perform a local search visit a store within five miles of their current location, according Inter, a firm that focuses on delivering results-driven digital marketing solutions. More than half of Gen Z are trying to support local businesses during the pandemic, with 60 percent saying they will continue to shop locally post Covid. Overall, 82 percent of pet parent households want to support local businesses, with a large percentage of them saying they’d be willing to pay more to do so, according to Finn Cady Research (finncadybranding.com). 

 

4. Recurring orders, Delivered 

A major component of success at Chewy and Amazon is their auto-ship and subscription capabilities. This allows pet parents to “set it and forget it.” They can expect their regular food order to show up at their doorstep like clockwork, ensuring their furry friends are never left with an empty bowl. 

International e-commerce powerhouse, Rakuten, reports there was $1.6-billion in subscription-based pet food sales for Q2 of 2021, which is a $604-million gap over one-time purchases for the same period. The trend of subscription-based pet food shows no signs of slowing and is not exclusive to large online retailers.

Indiepet has seen the same trends contribute to the growth of online orders and average order value. eTailPet, a pet-specific e-commerce software provider, has seen pet stores who have auto-orders enabled, on average, have more than double the online sales versus those who don’t. 

These stores have roughly 44 percent of online orders come in as auto-orders and can expect an average order of $82. This type of capability allows pet parents the ease of ordering but also provides vital forecasting data for the retailer. Recurring orders bolster loyalty with pet parents.

Pet parents want options in how they shop, whether it be in-store, or online for pick-up or home delivery. In pre-Covid days, in-store pick-up made up 70 percent of online orders, while home delivery was at 30 percent. By the summer of 2020, these percentages were flipped. People want delivery and the huge benefit of being local is that you can probably swing a same-day delivery. Top that Big Dogs! eTailPet has noted that home delivery orders also have the highest average order value.

Clearly, the tide has turned, and people want a convenient way to guarantee their pets have what they need when they need it.

 

5. Relationships are Key

Capitalize on what you have that Chewy, Amazon and Walmart can’t compete with—relationships.

Your online webstore should be an extension of your in-store experience. Your branded colors, logo, photos of your team all serve to create community. Make it personal, that is how you differentiate yourself from Amazon and Chewy. Throwing orders in a cardboard box is not enough. 

Give your online customers an experience they won’t get from Amazon, add free samples, coupons, invitations to in-store or online events, sales flyers and most importantly a handwritten thank you card goes a long way. 

Your delivery drivers are not just dropping off packages, they are the face of your store, send your expert staff to answer questions, take photos of pets to post on your website or social media. 

Some of the food may be the same, but the experience is what sets you apart.  PB