The pet care industry has grown astoundingly in the past few years. According to a research study, that’s primarily due to the recent humanization of pets. Baby Boomers were the first generation to do so and have become the biggest reason for increased online sales. Millennials are following the trend as well, with a large percentage of them choosing pets over children. Initially, the industry had not seen much promise in e-commerce, considering the disastrous end of Pets.com in 2000. But brick-and-mortar stores, such as Petco and PetSmart, may soon find themselves under pressure from the online sales boom. Competition is coming from Walmart and Amazon, the latter of which has seen a 40% increase in pet product sales. With this digital shift taking hold, legacy retailers are going to have to make changes if they want to stay on top.
PetSmart and Petco
PetSmart is the largest pet service provider with Petco falling in second. Though they have an advantage over digital-only companies due to their physical stores, sales have been declining in the past few years. PetSmart acquired Chewy.com over a year ago to help bolster its online presence, giving it an edge over Petco. The acquisition was one of the most expensive takeovers in retail, but according to reports has only grown since the buyout. Despite the massive debt PetSmart has reportedly been dealing with, Chewy.com may still prove profitable and buying the site did bolster PetSmart’s online penetration. This puts it at an advantage against Petco with its smaller number of services.
Both companies now offer subscription service programs where customers can get a box of pet food, treats and toys. Petco has both Petco One for cat owners and acquired the PupBox subscription service for dog owners. Amazon leads the online pet products market with 55% of sales, followed by Chewy, PetSmart, and Petco by a wide margin. To compete with this, Petco leveraged its physical stores to create an omnichannel experience that cannot be replicated online. The retailer opened PetCoach in California. The store offers dog training, vet care, dog walking and other services which Petco said would “Amazon-proof” their stores.
Digital-first company BarkBox has grown immensely over its six years. The company set out to find the solution to lack of accessibility for pet owners searching for engaging dog toys. It started primarily as a subscription service but following consumer feedback also offered a website to purchase stand-alone products. The company partnered with Target to reach shoppers who prefer purchasing products in-store. The subscription service is very consumer-friendly and is dedicated to customer satisfaction. That’s shown in the care taken to provide toys and treats in their boxes that cater to feedback. Your Dog Adviser wrote a BarkBox review that said the company is “very passionate about dog safety” and even has “an allergy-friendly box”. They try their best to go above and beyond with their subscription boxes. They make sure their customers are happy because they understand customer experience and satisfaction is one of, if not the most important aspect of the business. It’s this understanding of their customers that has made BarkBox one of the most popular pet-care companies around. It demonstrates the connection between digital-first companies and consumers which traditional retailers are lacking.
BarkBox is trying to turn its company into a lifestyle brand and understand the necessity of an omnichannel approach. Much like Petco’s PetCoach store opening, BarkBox wants to give its customers something that can’t be bought online in order to stay ahead of the competition. Nashville, Tennessee saw the recent opening of BarkPark, a private dog park exclusively for BarkBox subscribers.
Amazon created a private pet brand label called Wag for its Prime members. So far, the e-commerce giant has only begun with dry pet food as it is an easy repeat purchase item. According to reports, the label has been successful and proves to be a real threat to retailers Petco and PetSmart. Walmart is also taking a piece of the pie as it has the largest in-store pet product sales of all major retailers. Other companies are emerging in the pet food sector such as digital-first, NomNomNow, which is capitalizing on pet lovers desire for healthier brands. Within a year, between 2016 and 2017 they saw a massive 650% growth. Pet parents liked their focus on fresh food and excellent customer service.
E-Commerce Versus Traditional Retailers
When it comes to digital-first companies they have an easier time connecting with customers. They find that they are more authentic, more communicative on social media and have better overall customer service. Companies such as NomNomNow are trusted by pet owners because of their transparency about ingredients compared to traditional retailers selling the usual labels. Owners are treating their pets more and more like family, meaning they are learning about what they need to keep them happy and healthy. That includes the quality of their pet food and treats. It is now expected that brands are being honest about the ingredients going into their products. It is all about health and wellness.
Of course, the most obvious reason e-commerce is dominating the pet care industry has to do with convenience. Large bags of pet food can easily be shipped straight to a customer’s door making it the optimal choice. Combine convenience with a trusted brand and traditional retailers will find themselves with less foot traffic. The only way for traditional retailers to compete is to both differentiate with products that can’t be sold online and to have a productive presence online as well. That’s why an omnichannel approach is the only real movement forward for traditional retailers. Hopefully, PetSmart and Petco are doing enough to keep up.