It’s not just during the holidays when people spend big on their pets. It’s a year-round affair, driving a $60.59 billion per year pet product/care industry in the U.S. that serves 79.7 million pet-owning households.
According to Forrester Research, online sales accounted for $3.7 billion of the U.S. pet care total in 2014, approximately 6 percent of the total, and an increase of 76 percent since 2010. (Comparatively speaking, the total for all online and off-line pet product/care sales in the U.K is £4.6 billion.)
Such a dramatic increase in online pet care sales has been noted by Andrew Bucher, co-founder and chief veterinary officer at Profitero customer MedicAnimal, who makes the point that not only are retailers and brands profiting, but pets and their owners are benefiting as well—with better access to products that improve pet health.
“In the past five years, pet owners have become far more informed and savvy in the content they consume and the products they purchase online for their much-loved, four-legged furry friends,” Bucher said. “Add this to the convenience and price transparency of eCommerce and you end up with our pets benefiting greatly in terms of increased longevity and quality of life. As more owners become aware of a healthier online alternative for their pet care, it is not surprising to see that the growth of eCommerce in the pet sector will continue to grow at 15 to 20 percent in 2016-17.”
Making the Healthy Choice
The focus on healthy online alternatives is a direct result of the attitudinal shift brought about by pet-owning baby boomers – 90 percent of whom use the Internet, 52 percent of whom have interacted with a brand online and 70 percent of whom use social media on a daily basis.
Millennials are right there with them, in terms of sheer demographic numbers and in their humanizing attitude toward their pets.
Mike Nairn of Thistle Insight (and formerly of Mars Petcare) explains why boomers and millennials are finding the web such an appealing, health-oriented option.
“eCommerce helps pet owners through giving them choice, particularly for those who need specialist diets that are difficult to source,” Nairn said. “Pet owners also need to buy a high volume of product compared to other categories, so eCommerce allows them to harness direct delivery and this facilitates sourcing products through the specialist pet trade rather than through normal supermarket shopping trips.”
Convenience Is a Major Factor
Nairn’s comments also point to the importance and convenience of direct delivery. The fact is, the bulk of larger pack sizes is one of the key drivers in ordering pet food online: buying with a single click and arranging for home delivery as opposed to lugging a bulky bag of food home from the store.
Taking the purchasing model one step further—it also makes sense that subscription programs are playing an increasing role in the procurement of pet products online. Consumables such as pet food and treats are excellent fits for auto-replenishment programs, which is why several leading pet brands have been among the early adopters of programs such as Amazon’s Subscribe & Save and Dash.
These online benefits generate results—most notably, they lead to product loyalty. According to a January, 2015 survey data from Packaged Facts, 19 percent of dog owners who had switched dog food brands online within the last three months were choosing regular, subscription delivery of dog food, compared to only 12 percent of all dog owners. Likewise, for cat food, the figures were 17 percent and 14 percent respectively. It’s what David Sprinkle, Research Director of Packaged Facts, calls “sealed with a click.”
A Look to the Future
Convenience and choice are two key elements of the online experience that younger consumers have come to expect as a “given” in making purchases today. It’s why the pet supplies industry needs to be particularly attentive to the online channel as millennials and gen X’ers emerge as the leading pet supplies consumer segments.
Whether online brands and retailers are selling aromatherapy kits for Fido, high-tech litterboxes for Whiskers, or any other pet product or service—they’re meeting demand in a big way.
“Pet care is a wonderful opportunity to start an eCommerce business because it isn’t just a trend or seasonal sale,” said Todd Handler, owner of Hot Dog Collars. “There’s a wide range of specialized pet products and care that entrepreneurs can specialize in, such as organic food and healthcare, luxury pet accessories and gift boutiques. People who treat their pets as family are usually willing to give their four-legged friends the best of the best—and that’s something that can be capitalized on.”
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