Not surprisingly, advancements in digital pet care largely correlate with petowners’ consumption of pet care information. In this arena, veterinarians topthe list as the most important source of pet care information across all pet-owning age groups, at rates ranging from 77 percent among the 55-plus crowd to66 percent among those age 18-34. Second in line is the internet, which isespecially popular among younger pet owners, with those age 18-34 or 35-54 at45 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

Veterinary telemedicine

With veterinarians the foremost source of pet care information, the leap intoveterinary telemedicine was a natural even before COVID-19 came along, and inthe new normal at-home era, it has become de rigueur. As reported byVeterinary Practice News on June 10, telehealth offers veterinarians a numberof competitive advantages, including the ability to identify and reach out toclients who have pets with chronic conditions since electronic medical recordsmake it easy to search patients by diagnostic codes. Prior to the pandemic,already, veterinary telehealth was advancing, spurred by the inroads ofentrepreneurial outfits such as Vet24seven (Ask.Vet/MyPetDoc), PetDesk andGuardianVets, with major players including Banfield (Vet Chat) and Petco(PetCoach and Thrive) joining in, all of which are now offering an enhancedrange of telehealth services designed to be integrated quickly. Regardless ofsize, veterinary practices embracing telehealth will not only be betterequipped to meet the needs of clients during the coronavirus crisis, but alsobetter situated vis-à-vis America’s changing demographics. In Packaged Facts’July/August 2019 Survey of Pet Owners, all 12 of the alternative veterinaryformats listed attracted double-digit shares of millennial and gen Z petowners, including online/telemedicine consultation with veterinarians, at 11percent of dog-owning and 13 percent of cat-owning veterinary care customers.Telemedicine also represents an opportunity for veterinarians to shore uptheir pet medications business against additional third-party onlineencroachment.

E-commerce

Think price and brand comparisons, ingredient lists, consumer reviews.Arguably the most comprehensive and accessible source of pet care information,the internet continues to grow its share of pet product sales. During 2019,pet owners spent $12 billion buying pet products online, which amounts to 22percent of all pet product sales, and the pandemic-accelerated consumermigration onto the internet is expected to hopscotch the e-commerce share ofpet product sales to 27 percent in 2020 and to 35 percent by 2024. For any petmarket participant not yet invested wholeheartedly in e-commerce, now is thetime to explore every avenue, including online ordering for home delivery,“click-and-collect” (buy online, pick up in-store/aka BOPIS—or, in the age ofcoronavirus, curbside) and subscription-based sales.

Smart products

IT continues to drive much of the advancement in non-food pet supplies, withsales growth rates of pet tech products far surpassing those of most other petproduct categories. During 2020, sales of “smart” pet products—those usingBluetooth, GPS or RFID, and those able to connect to Wi-Fi or homenetworks—are projected to rise 13 percent to $555 million. Containment,including invisible fencing systems and pet doors, is the largest segment,accounting for 35 percent of tech product sales, followed by collars/tags (aka“wearables”) at 29 percent and toys at 21 percent. Taking a page from pet foode-tail, pet tech marketers are increasingly fielding products capable orreordering supplies automatically or on a set schedule, along withsubscription packages connecting pet owners via smartphone app with theirpets, pet monitoring services and veterinarians. For pet tech products—most ofwhich are meant to automate basic pet care tasks—U.S. pet owners spending moretime at home could be something of a drag since cooped-up pet owners arebetter able to personally handle many such tasks and may be more inclined todo so. Nonetheless, the overarching trends driving the pet tech business andnon-food pet supplies overall—pet health, convenience, technology ande-commerce—have been thrust into overdrive by the pandemic and will remain inforce long after the health crisis is in the nation’s rearview mirror.

App-based pet care services

As of 2018, app-based pet care services appeared to be on an infallible track,with two well-funded startups—Rover and Wag!—fielding Airbnb- and Lyft-typeapps offering digitally requested, monitored and paid-for pet boarding,walking and sitting services taking the market by storm. During 2019, however,the market hit a speed bump when SoftBank backed out of its deal with Wag!,selling its $300 million (45 percent) stake back to Wag! at a loss in December2019. App-based service providers have also come up against challengesincluding negative publicity stemming from lost pets, regulatory restrictionsin local jurisdictions, and excessive operational and marketing costs. Thatsaid, the business continues to gain ground, due in part to the entry ofadditional providers. For example, Washington, D.C.-based Barkly Pets, winnerof Nestlé Purina’s 2018 Pet Care Innovation Prize (PCIP) contest, continues toexpand, touting its app as “the highest rated, most reliable dog walking appto simplify every day and essential pet care needs.”

By adopting omnichannel strategies, big-box retailers such as PetSmart andWalmart are helping to drive digital pet care, but there’s no point inpretending the digital wave does not represent a formidable challenge to thebrick-and-mortar set. Nevertheless, pet specialty retailers should takeencouragement from their strength as pet care information providers, and allthe more so in the age and wake of COVID-19. In the February/March pet ownersurvey, pet specialty retailers are, impressively, only a notch behind theinternet as the most popular source of pet care information, and in the petworld, as in the world at large, sources of information have enormous power toshape and influence consumer behavior, including the “what” and “where” of petowner shopping preferences. With pet owners placing an ever higher premium onproduct quality and safety, pet specialty shops leaning into theirlongstanding role as trusted, flesh-and-blood sources of pet care knowledgeand customer service, including in the form of carefully culled productselections, may find themselves with a resurgent advantage.

Source: David Lummis USA Pet Product News

Image: Bigstock

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