Pets and e-commerce are a natural combination, and that’s been especially true during the pandemic.
More than two-thirds of American households own at least one pet. As pet owners increasingly opt to shop from home, pet-related companies are stepping up their game to grab a share of industry expenditures forecasted for 2020 to reach approximately $99 billion in the U.S.
The E-Commerce Times spoke with various experts in the field of online pet product sales and services to get their take on trends in this market.
“Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, and certainly true during the early stages of the pandemic, many pet owners have been shopping online out of safety precautions,” Steve King, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association, told the E-Commerce Times. “While pet retailers are deemed essential and have remained open during the pandemic for the most part, many pet owners are choosing to play it safe, stay home and order online.”
Both pure-play e-commerce companies and those with a combination of physical stores and digital sales are seeing an increase in demand for online purchasing.
“There are a few key online-only retailers such as Amazon and Chewy.com contributing significantly to this trend, who are marketing heavily to pet owners online and really focusing on customer service and retention, competitive pricing, and quality products,” said King.
“Also, other major pet retailers like Petco, PetSmart and Walmart are doing more to expand their accessibility to customers and increase their online presence,” he added.
Convenience is a large factor driving online pet-related sales. It’s often simply easier to shop for pet supplies online, particularly for larger items and products needed regularly.
“From a pet owner’s perspective, there’s a lot of attraction in having bulky, heavy items delivered right to your doorstep,” explained King. “With items like food and litter, for example, that people know they need on a regular basis, being offered an often-reduced pricing on an auto-ship subscription is tough to compete with.
“Pet product manufacturers can target their customers online via influencers or advertisements, and pet owners can click right there on a direct link to read reviews, find out more about the product and ingredients, and have it shipped to their door in just a few days.”
Mindful of consumer demand, pet-related companies are increasingly offering a variety of shopping, shipping, delivery, and pick up methods.
“We know safety and convenience remain top priority for consumers, so we continue to enhance our online and app experiences to ensure pet parents can shop safely, without hassle or shipment delays,” Darren MacDonald, chief digital and innovation officer for Petco, told the E-Commerce Times. “From a logistical perspective, we believe focusing on BOPUS, curbside, ship-from-store, and online booking processes are crucial to remaining competitive.”
Many pet products, after all, are essential — even when consumers are cutting back in other areas.
“Consumers may not be spending on vacations or trips to the movies, but they’re taking great care of their pets, and we expect that to continue,” said MacDonald.
Virtual Dog Training
It’s not only pet product e-commerce that’s seeing a boost. Services such as dog training are increasingly moving online, as well.
“The approaches and techniques taught in online dog training are the same as a trainer would teach to a client in-person,” Steffi Trott, owner and founder of SpiritDog Training, told the E-Commerce Times. “We emphasize the same key aspects: making training positive, keeping the reward rate high, motivating the dog to do well, preventing him from rehearsing bad and unwanted behaviors.
“The difference lies in how the content is communicated. While an in-person trainer can literally take the leash into his or her own hands, an online dog trainer has to demonstrate in videos how behaviors are taught. This comes with additional challenges and requirements: only very good teachers can relay information through digital means as well as hands-on.”
While the pandemic boosted the demand for online dog training, it’s likely that the field will continue seeing expansion even after the pandemic is over.
“The pandemic jump-started online dog training — as it did many e-learning businesses,” explained Trott. “Owners are realizing the value and convenience of training their dog from home. It saves time and money.
“A five-minute session with your dog in your living room can be just as effective as driving to a dog school, spending one hour in a group class and driving home. Because online training lets great training happen with just a little bit of daily time commitment, it makes dog training accessible and feasible for a huge amount of dog owners.”
Customer Retention Programs
As the world of pet-related e-commerce continues to grow and develop, experts say the future looks bright for those companies with creative and competitive strategies.
“Online businesses are looking for creative ways to attract and retain customers with the use of trending e-commerce features,” Jimmy Rodriguez, COO of 3dcart, told the E-Commerce Times. “A good example is offering an auto-delivery service, allowing pet owners to subscribe to receive pet food or other supplies on a recurring basis.
“For stores with a physical presence, the ability to buy online and pick up in the store has become a unique differentiator and displaying this at checkout is key for this strategy. Some stores, like Lambert Vet Supply, which runs on the 3dcart e-commerce platform, allow customers to create a ‘pet profile’ and save their pets to their account to allow them to easily order food, supplies, and even prescription medication for their pets.”
Online products and services will continue to connect pet owners with e-commerce businesses that give them what they need and want, during the pandemic and beyond.
“Considering pets are family, if owners don’t feel comfortable entering the brick-and-mortar pet stores, they’ll have to look online,” Brian Wright, vice president of The Green Pet Shop, told the E-Commerce Times. “That’s why I believe now more than ever it’s important for consumers to have an easy and reliable site they can go to for quality products for their pets. We feel lucky to be able to provide such a space for them.”