Online Pet Marketing During and After the COVID-19 Crisis

Pet marketing in 2020: Consumer confidence may have waned, but pet owners still spend money on their dogs, cats, and other pets.

COVID-19 has generated plenty of concerns about health and finances all over the world. This global pandemic may have initially begun when the virus jumped from an animal to a human host. On the plus side, the CDC says that you probably don’t have to worry about pets getting sick or contributing to spreading the disease. Instead of making people leery of keeping pets, the crisis appears to have sparked interest in them.

In fact, pet ownership has even increased in the United States during these days of social isolation. Even better for pet product marketing, most sectors of the industry have proven remarkably resilient to past financial downturns. Still, pet industry trends and consumer behavior have changed abruptly during the current crisis. It’s important to understand what’s different about the COVID-19 outbreak than financial slumps of the past. That way, you can develop pet product marketing plans that will attract and retain today’s customers.

How has the coronavirus impacted pet marketing?

Even before coronavirus, marketers have touted pet product marketing as a typically recession-proof industry. That positive view of the overall pet business held true both during the Great Recession of the last decade and in the aftermath of 9/11 two decades ago.

Still, the current pandemic has generated both some new opportunities and new challenges for the pet business. For instance, previous economic downturns did not have associated stay-at-home orders and perhaps, did not occur quite this abruptly. While many retailers and marketers still have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic, others have struggled and may need to pivot their pet marketing plans rapidly in order to maintain and grow their business.

Local pet services face the most obstacles 

The virus has generated the most challenges for local pet services. In particular, locally owned businesses may struggle to survive. Travel restrictions and increased remote work have slashed the need for such services as pet boarding, daycare, and dog walkers. Restrictions on in-person contact have limited dog groomers, even if they’re considered essential businesses. People may delay some other discretionary services as they tighten their purse strings.

On the other hand, one sort of pet service has enjoyed an upswing. According to USA Today, pet shelters and adoption centers have not reported an increase in the number of pets dropped off because owners were either financially unable or too ill to take care of them. Actually, pet shelters have reported an increase in the number of people who have signed up to foster or adopt shelter pets.

Because of social distancing measures, people may have decided pets can help them cope with isolation. Others may simply have found more time to care for a furry friend. Also, many shelters and sponsoring agencies have made it possible to reduce or even eliminate adoption fees. Probably for multiple reasons, expect to see pet ownership increase and not decrease during the coronavirus outbreak.

Local retailers must take safety measures and find alternative business tactics

Most of the government stay-at-home orders consider pet stores an essential business. That means that they can stay open, even when non-essential businesses have had to close. At the same time, they’ve generally had to take more stringent safety measures to satisfy local regulations and of course, to keep their customers and employees safe. For instance, stores might limit foot traffic, have employees use PPE, and offer curbside service or new delivery options.

Keven Fink serves as the CEO of Worldwide, a pet products manufacturer. He said that many of his company’s local retailers should have prepared themselves better by leaning into online retailing a little more. He believes they should take advantage of their community presence by offering more online ordering with local pickup.

In this way, customers still won’t need to pay a shipping charge. Still, they can enjoy the convenience of contact-free payments, online ordering, and in many cases, same-day pickup. Traditionally, this model has served other types of retailers with physical stores very well. In addition to other marketing, physical stores could better position themselves by adding online pet supply marketing to their existing advertising.

How to benefit from the rise of online pet supply marketing 

Pet industry marketers will face challenges both during and shortly after the outbreak. Compared to an original project increase of five percent for 2020, the marketing research firm Packaged Facts predicts an overall 17 percent decline for the year. Most of that decline comes to a drop in such pet services as boarding, dog walking, and pet daycare services. Travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders mean that more people won’t need this kind of help. Packaged Facts also expects a somewhat more modest decline in other discretionary services and products but an increase in sales of such non-discretionary pet products as food and litter.

Along with obstacles, marketers can also find some growth opportunities. Online pet supply marketing already enjoyed steady growth before the outbreak. Mobile and online sales have been surging for all sorts of eCommerce. Pet product retailers and marketers should take this as good news because historically, online sales have tended to grow the overall market instead of cannibalizing other retail sales. Packaged Facts expects online sales to reach at least 24 percent of total industry sales in 2020 and grow to over 26 percent within five years.

Choosing an online platform

Larger retailers and distributors may already have their own eCommerce platform. Other pet product marketers may simply take advantage of the vast audience and developed infrastructure that Amazon already offers them. If a pet product supplier has a brick-and-mortar store, either option can offer a customer base that extends far beyond their local market.

Of course, many sellers have both a presence on Amazon and their own store. Managing both Amazon listings and a business website makes an marketing a bit more complex; however, it can also offer your business many advantages. For instance, you can run a newsletter from your site. You can also give customers a place to go to learn more about your company when they do their own research. At the same time, you can take advantage of Amazon’s vast customer base.

Tips to market Amazon pet products

Some benefits of pet product marketing on Amazon include:

  • A giant audience who spends billions of dollars each year on the site
  • The chance to provide excellent products and services and then earn repeat business without any other marketing
  • Tested backend support and infrastructure
  • Automatic referrals from Amazon’s recommendation algorithm
  • An implied level of trust from associating with Amazon

Even though Amazon has a lot of customers, pet sellers may also find plenty of competition in some niches. Dan Vas, a successful Amazon seller, says that he’s achieved success by differentiating his listings, even if they’re for the same products and brands other sellers promote. He shared such tactics as careful keyword research, high-quality images, and using page headings and text to let customers know how your product or business is unique and beneficial.

Amazon also allows sellers to set up autoship programs, which can automatically generate repeat sales. If you are promoting your Amazon listings, you might first run your visitors through your website in order to collect their email addresses. For instance, you might offer prospects a discount code in exchange for a subscription to your newsletter. Amazon has lots of restrictions on the way you can contact “their customers.” If you can collect email addresses earlier in the sales funnel, you won’t violate the rules.

Online pet business ideas

If you have a physical store or solely sell online, you can also differentiate yourself by your choice of pet supplies you focus upon selling. Sure, the demand for non-discretionary items has increased; however, those are the kinds of things that many viewers view as simple commodities. You may also find some opportunities with more discretionary pet supplies. For instance, you might decide that it’s a good time to consider advertising animal supplements and anti-anxiety pet products.

Advertising animal supplements

Animal supplements have also grown into a fairly large niche within the broader pet products category. For example, Beyond Animals markets natural supplements that may help with such issues as digestive health and improved immunity. Joshua Erret, the company’s chief revenue officer, says April sales doubled over March, and he expects this pet industry trend to continue.

Even though some large players dominate this market, a couple of factors may mean that smaller players still have room to grow. First, the population of pet owners keeps growing. Also, as people have become more interested in high-quality food and natural remedies for themselves, they’re also interested in providing these same alternatives for their pets.

Anti-anxiety pet products

No doubt, the coronavirus pandemic has generated its fair share of anxiety. Naturally, people feel uncertain about the future and are justifiably concerned about the disease. According to research from Trends.co, people also have concerns they have transferred some of these feelings to their pets.

For instance, keywords for such items as calming dog and cat beds generate several thousand searches a month on Google. Likewise, they’re also trending on Amazon. Besides soothing beds, other examples of anti-anxiety products might include calming pet jackets and aromatherapy gels and sprays.

Back to the topic of pet furniture, all sorts of dog or cat beds have proven popular. In fact, there’s now a pretty viral, organic social media movement around the subject of people accidentally discovering their small pets like IKEA doll beds. However, IKEA has already published statements that their doll beds are not intended for pets. Sellers with similar designs of beds that were designed for pets should have an easy time piggybacking on some of that attention.

Pitch social consciousness

Even before the current outbreak, consumers had increasingly preferred brands they perceived as more socially conscious. According to McKinsey Research, post-pandemic customers put even more emphasis on spending money on businesses that they believe will care about them and their communities. Lots of companies may make some token efforts to present themselves as socially conscious. If your company’s products are centered around improving communities, you will have an edge.

For instance, the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the story of Piggyback Treats. One of the founders, Jennifer Kirby, said that their company works with farms and restaurants to collect food that would have otherwise been discarded. Some of their popular pet products include treats made from salmon skins or byproducts from making beer. They also make their pet food packaging out of sustainable materials.

According to Kirby, they had initially been devastated because they lost access to trade shows when the pandemic caused mass cancellations of in-person events. The company had already spent thousands of dollars to book booths and expected to recoup their money and make a profit through sales. On the positive side, online sales climbed steeply in March and April. Kirby said that their revenue would not make up for the amount they lost on trade shows, but it would be sufficient to sustain them until the crisis passes.

How the best pet websites have reacted to COVID-19

Your business should develop its own competitive advantages, so you don’t necessarily want to copy industry leaders. On the other hand, you should take the prudent step of studying their reactions to the coronavirus crisis to see if you can use some of their ideas to fit your own business model. Take a look at how some of the best pet websites have coped with the crisis in order to sustain and grow their business.

BarkBox

Barkbox offers a subscription program that delivers healthy pet treats and toys. This company joins the ranks of pet product marketing companies that have enjoyed increased revenue during the crisis. However, they also understand that many of their customers face financial uncertainty right now, so they’ve made a commitment to be very flexible with their subscription programs.

Chewy

Chewy has the distinction of being one online pet product marketer to outsell Amazon. During the outbreak, they’ve mostly struggled with scaling to meet demand while protecting employee health. While they plan to hire up to 10,000 more employees, they’ve also improved sanitation, added health benefits, and changed some work policies and processes. Also, Chewy has partnered with GreaterGood.org with a donation of $3 million for rescues and shelters all over the country.

The Dodo

The Dodo doesn’t manufacture or market pet products. Instead, they produce entertaining content that centers around animals. In addition to the overall increase in pet ownership, The Dodo has enjoyed an increase in viewers during the current crisis. The company’s president, YuJung Kim, says that they’ve also seen traffic spikes during times of natural disasters and even election cycles. He believes his site’s content offers viewers a bit of hope and respite during stressful times.

In any case, a pet supply marketer might take a lesson from The Dodo’s popularity. Adding some content focused on pet owners to your online platform could be an effective way to grow your audience. Sponsoring sites and social media influencers with this kind of content can offer you a somewhat simpler route to get started. From the standpoint that this sort of content can help relax and entertain people during these uncertain times, your audience may view this effort as socially responsible as donations. Of course, you can use the content to promote your business and your favorite worthy causes.

Large pet food brands offering sustainable pet food packaging

Besides Piggyback Treats, a number of national and even international brands have explored using more sustainable pet food packaging. According to Pet Food Industry, almost 60 percent of customers report a more favorable view of businesses that avoid or reduce single-use plastics in their packages.

Some large brands that have either introduced or explored more sustainable packaging include Royal Canin, Wellness, and Purina. Some of these manufacturers have developed biodegradable packages, while others have encouraged recycling. You can use your support for sustainable products to help promote your own brand as socially conscious too.

Moving forward to enjoy the boom in online pet food industry marketing

Lots of your customers may have tightened their budgets right now. At the same time, today’s pet owners tend to regard their furry friends as part of the family. Thus, pet owners want a good value. At the same time, they won’t always skimp on quality, especially for essential pet items. In general, consumers also like to spend their money on brands that have the same ideals that they do. That means your own investment in being a good neighbor and a reliable source of quality products can provide you with great returns.

Most of all, you can enjoy an expanding market of new pet owners and more reasons to offer online shopping. Your attention to researching and marketing trending pet products can help you gain an edge against larger competitors. There’s not a one-size-fits all model for every sort of business; however, you can study your competitors to determine which of their successful tactics can also help your pet business thrive.

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