As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, pet stores across the nation launchedcurbside pickup and delivery services to better serve their customers as wellas to maintain a revenue stream. While these services were unable to fill thefinancial gap completely, it did help many pet stores stay afloat. But as moreand more retailers begin to hang their “open” signs, will they continue theseservices? According to industry insiders, the answer is yes.

“I absolutely think these new methods of fulfillment are here to stay,” saidMichele Salerno, director of marketing and assistant vice president ofCelerant Technology Corp., a Staten Island, N.Y.-based retail software vendor.“The retail industry was already evolving and changing at a rapid rate, andnow COVID-19 has excelled that even further, and at an even more rapid rate.”

As consumers were forced to stay home, savvy retailers needed to make quickchanges in order to continue servicing their customers, Salerno added.

“I anticipate that those changes will continue, long past COVID-19,” Salernosaid. “After experiencing these new methods, consumers have come to appreciatethem and will expect them to continue. In today’s climate, buyers wantoptions, and it’s those retailers who can provide the options and meet each ofthose needs that will be most successful.”

Pet specialty retailers agree and are doing just that.

“We will definitely continue these services,” said Sherry Redwine, owner ofOdyssey Pets in Dallas. “People are busy and like the convenience.”

Odyssey Pets began offering curbside pickup and delivery services immediately,Redwine said.

“We also set up an online website that could support sales as we did not haveone before,” Redwine said. “Orders started coming in through email, Facebookmessages, the new website and by phone. We started to encourage people toleave their credit card numbers on file so we can easily charge them the nexttime they order.”

Kathy Hyland, owner of Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich., also beganoffering these added services immediately after the shelter-in-place ordersbegan—and she plans to continue doing so.

“We feel that curbside is a thing of the future for some time to come,” Hylandsaid. “People love it.”

Weighing the Benefits & Overcoming Obstacles

Some retailers may still be on the fence about offering such services, or justhaven’t had the time to implement them, but the benefits may be greater thanone thinks.

“By offering services like curbside pickup and/or delivery, quite simply givespet parents the convenience and, in some cases, during this pandemic, thesafety they are looking for while still supporting their favorite localstore,” said Michael Baker, president and CEO of Pet Food Experts, aPawtucket, R.I.-based distributor that serves 32 states. “Additionally,retailers will be able to get more products out to their community, especiallythe indie-only brands that can’t be found at big-box stores all while reapingthe benefits of additional sales.”

Salerno agreed.

“With curbside pickup, retailers can offer quick, same-day pickup or deliveryto customers, just as they would be able to service their customers if theirstore were fully open,” Salerno said. “With e-commerce, shoppers can orderonline, but have to wait a couple of days for the order to be shipped andreceived. But when a customer needs the product now for their pet, waitingseveral days is simply not an option, and they will go elsewhere to make theirpurchase.”

That’s not to say there may not be some obstacles in beginning or evenmaintaining such services, according to insiders.

“We quickly learned we had to create a system,” Hyland said. “Having customersgive a time for pickup clarified many issues, and setting up a form online toease some of the phone congestion.”

Redwine said the implementation of offering curbside and delivery services hasgone fairly smoothly, but they still have challenges, such as people trying toorder outside their delivery zone and people ordering items out of stock.

To help retailers with these efforts, Celerant Technology offers a curbsidepickup app for retailers.

“In speaking with so many of our retail clients, we quickly noticed that manywere having trouble with their curbside efforts, as the process can beunorganized and challenging as your orders start to rise,” Salerno said. “Weimmediately created our new curbside application to help streamline andorganize the process, and in an effort to help, we decided to offer it forfree, for three months, to any of our retail clients who needed it.”

Orders can flow into the curbside application from either the retailer’swebsite or they can be entered manually, say for example, phone orders,Salerno added. Store associates are alerted via text message or email once anew order is available. Once the associate has the order ready for pickup,they click to change the status within the platform to ‘ready for pick-up’,which sends an automated text message to the customer letting them know andtelling them where to pick it up, such as curbside, parking lot, etc.

“There is also a link within the text message, in which the customer isinstructed to click on once they arrive at the curb, at which time anotheralert is then texted to the store associate, letting them know their customeris outside and waiting,” Salerno said. “The package can then be delivered tothe back-seat or trunk of the vehicle, all while no contact is made.”

This is also a good time to evaluate e-commerce services, according toSalerno.

“Many smaller merchants who didn’t have e-commerce, had to quickly move intothe online world in order to stay in front of their customers,” Salerno said.“Having the web presence will now future-proof their business moving forward,combined with successful, same-day curbside/in store pickup and/or delivery.”

Baker agreed, citing a study of more than 540 retail chains that compared theresponses to sales data from pre-COVID-19, during the panic buying and post-panic buying periods. The data showed that those with e-commerce platformsoutsold those without by an average of 18 percent during the panic buyingperiod, and by more than 25 percent in the post-panic buying period, accordingto Baker.

“As a small business owner, expanding your business to include an e-commerceplatform for services like curbside pickup and delivery can seem like anoverwhelming task,” Baker said. “Especially now when stores may beunderstaffed or more focused on keeping people safe and reopening their doors.There are several e-commerce options available to independent pet retailers,and owners are going to want to be sure they choose the correct fit for theirbusiness.”

Baker pointed to eTailPet.

“A platform like eTailPet, which is specifically dedicated to empowering theindependent pet industry, comes preloaded with 20,000-plus of the most popularindependent pet items out there, allowing set up to take days instead of weeksor even months. In fact, a majority of our survey responders have seensignificant success using eTailPet to supplement their curbside efforts andhave expressed to us they are grateful to have invested the time to getstarted when they did.

Source: USA Pet Product News

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