Our rep company physically calls on more than 700 independent retailers for our manufacturers during the year. As part of the process, we check out a store’s digital footprint by searching their websites, Facebook pages and even their Yelp reviews. This process allows us to build a comprehensive database on our retailers.
The data we’ve complied confirm that less than 25 percent of pet retailers we call on invest in utilizing digital media to any great extent. To provide full disclosure, our main focus is aquatic and reptile stores, but more than half the stores actually offer full lines of products so our numbers are a fair indicator of what retailers are doing in general.
You might be surprised at how many pet stores don’t even have a website. Even if a store has one, some don’t post their hours or show an image of their store. Many websites that we’ve revisited over the past year are still under construction, which tells us that the website is a low priority in day-to-day business. More retailers—approximately 50 percent—are utilizing Facebook, but about 30 percent of those pages aren’t being updated regularly.
I have prefaced the aforementioned basically because I wanted to qualify our work in this field of information gathering and to point out the deficiency in digital outreach by pet retailers. It is a shame that more stores don’t spend the time and money to optimize their digital footprint because the digital marketplace and the online community are powerful tools that can actually level the playing field for even the smallest retailer.
There’s a famous cartoon by Peter Steiner that was originally published by The New Yorker on July 5, 1993. It features two dogs, one sitting on a chair in front of a computer speaking the following caption to a second dog sitting on the floor. “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog!”
Well, this same adage applies to independent pet stores: On the Internet, nobody knows that you aren’t a superstore. If you provide a professional-looking and navigationally-friendly website, there’s no reason not to enter into the digital market as an online retailer supporting your brick-and-mortar store. Even if some sites sell products for less than you do, it is a big marketplace. It may even increase foot traffic into your store.
Some distributors offer fulfilment services, which means that you can increase the spread of product that you offer in the stores. It also allows you to capture sales that you had to turn away in the past because of clunky special-order procedures. A simple laptop computer station in your store can allow you to take orders and ship them either to your store or to the customer’s home.
Even if you don’t want to enter into the online marketplace, to ignore an online presence is a mistake in this day and age. You need to get your company name in front of as many potential customers as you can, and the nominal cost of a domain name and website provider is worth it. Many providers even offer professional tools so that you can make your own website. But if you don’t want to try your hand at it, you can find services that will build you a professional-looking website for a monthly fee that would be less than some people spend at Starbucks each month.
And finally, I’ve said this before in prior articles: if you don’t have a Facebook page for your store, take ten minutes and start one. Or if you have one that you’ve been neglecting, take a few minutes once a week and add new content. At least upload some images of your store’s interior and some information about your store, your special features and services, etc. It’s free.
If your store isn’t thriving—or even if it is—you’ll receive benefits by having a digital footprint.