In almost every sense of the word, pets are our companions. They follow us through life, they share in our joy, they comfort us in our sorrow and they follow us through our daily routines. After living in a house with pets, it’s often hard to imagine going back to an existence without having a furry, feathered or scaled friend.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to many of us to view our pets as literal members of the family. In recent years, this trend has come to be known as “pet humanization.” The rise of social media has led to pet owners doing things like create Instagram and TikTok accounts for their pets, dress their pets in seasonal outfits or provide all manner of seemingly-luxury goods for the animals in their home. A 2019 Advantage Solutions market analysis cited that 9 in 10 dog or cat owners consider their pets as family members, while almost half of dog owners thought it to be harder to be away from their dog for a week than from their spouse/partner for the same amount of time. The same analysis notes that 1 in 10 American pets have their own social media account and that 65 percent of dog owners take more pictures of their pet than they do of their spouse/partner.
Pets are Family
To be blunt, we’re beyond the point of viewing our pets as simple animals anymore. They’re family members, just as much as a spouse or a child. And, if we wish to remain relevant in the expanding pet supply marketplace, we must fully embrace the idea of pets as family.
Consider starting with the staple of the pet retail industry: pet food. According to Advantage Solutions, pet owners are increasingly more likely – to the tune of 75 percent of dog and cat owners – to pay more for healthier pet food that might be more likely to extend the life of their pet. Offering organic food options, as well as choices with limited ingredient lists and added vitamins and minerals. Forty-seven percent of pet owners in Advantage’s analysis denote seeking pet foods that mimic human foods, implying both the increasing ‘personhood’ of pets and a commensurately increasing desire for pet owners to know what goes into their pets’ food.
However, this trend also extends into other items: clothing, toys and accessories. One major pet chain we visit regularly has even begun to prominently carry pet accessories meant specifically for hiking and camping, including floatation devices meant for pets while aboard canoes and boats. By including pets in our recreation activities, we’ve opened the door to offer the necessary items for pets to fully participate in those activities. And, if your store is to remain relevant in the ever-increasing online marketplace, you must capitalize on the expanding trend of pet humanization.
As you adapt your store to better address pet humanization, start offering your customers ways in which they can bring aspects of “luxury” to their pets. If you offer a basic steel food bowl, consider also stocking a deluxe model with a decorative pedestal or other personalization elements. If you offer basic pet clothing, offer a selection with pop culture characters, so that a pet owner can project their likes and personalities onto their pet. If you offer leashes and collars, add selections in various colors, patterns and materials. You may even want to offer special deals that provide multiple options at discount – such as buy two, get one free – that reinforce the idea of accessorizing for pets. Doing so gets your customers in the habit of changing collars and other cosmetic items, leading to a greater likelihood of additional cosmetic purchases.
The bond between a pet and their owner cannot be denied. We know it intimately, and that bond of friendship is what’s led many of us into the pet industry in the first place. But as more and more pet owners view their pets as family members, we need to treat those pets in the same manner. The health, well-being and happiness of a person’s pets means as much to that person as their own, and we need to not only respect that relationship, but find the best ways to serve it. Doing so earns you not only long-term customers, but friends.
Amy P. Castro, MA, is a business, leadership and communication expert, author and speaker who helps organizations develop leaders and build amazing teams one person at a time. She works with pet industry professionals who want to grow their loyal customer base by building a “Best in Show” team that can deliver a 5-Star Customer Experience. Amy is also the president of Starlight Outreach and Rescue, a nonprofit rescue in the Houston, Texas, area, and she has personally fostered more than 1,000 shelter pets.