By Todd Maute
In today’s digitally inclined and rapidly changing shopping landscape, strong brands can help pet retailers come to terms with the increasingly purpose- and values-driven mindset of the consumer. Simply put, today’s consumers have shifted from buying brands to “buying into” them. Now more than ever, brands represent users’ values, beliefs and points of view. Because of this, both private-label and mainline brands need to think more about the types of conversations they can initiate with consumers.
Strong brands can even help retailers adapt to the forces of disruption that are reshaping retail, from the rise of the millennials, to the growing popularity of Amazon Alexa. In the pet category, the potential rewards for getting this right are high indeed: According to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of U.S. households now own pets, and Americans spent nearly $69.4 billion on pet products in 2017. To win market share, retailers need highly targeted strategies. Here are some key considerations:
Millennials are the country’s largest living generation. In 2016, there were an estimated 79.8 million millennials compared with 74.1 million baby boomers. While they dominate the population, millennials are having the hardest time economically, with 36 percent saying they have difficulty affording groceries. Those aging baby boomers, meanwhile, still wield a lot of spending power even as the rest of the population continues to gray (98.2 million people will be over 65 years old by 2050). Older consumers strive to be frugal, especially on commoditized essentials. Lastly, the middle class continues to shrink: According to Pew Research, half of U.S. adults belong to middle-income households, as opposed to 61 percent back in 1970. All of this points to one thing: value will continue to matter.
Technology is transforming retail. Americans are not only going online more often, but more of them are also buying online on a weekly basis. According to industry research, mobile payments for online goods and services will grow over the next five years from an estimated 453 million global users in 2014 to nearly 2.1 billion users in 2019. Meanwhile, researchers estimate that 22.5 million connected products will be in American homes by 2020, with Amazon Alexa’s sales rising to 11 million units sold over just the last year. Pet products are ideal for automatic online renewal. How will your brand look on an iPhone X? And what kind of personalized and connected cross-channel experiences are you offering?
Increasingly, we see consumers looking to online articles, reviews, forums and even the Amazon comments section to learn about and discuss products and services. As part of this, they want to know about a brand’s values. Packaging for Open Farm, a family-run pet food business based in Toronto, includes barcodes that let shoppers see sources right down to specific farms. This reinforces the attribute of being ethically conscious. Highlighting your corporate responsibility is always a good idea, as cause-oriented brands like Warby Parker and REI have learned.
Packaging is a key communication channel across retail, but especially in pets. Walk the aisles of any major pet retailer today and it is easy to see how advanced packaging has become. Pet food is now a complex category, with products based on life stage, gluten-free, grain-free, made in the USA and more. Strong packaging also clearly establishes tiers such as value, premium or super-premium. Brands need great packaging quality and clarity.
Meanwhile, the term experiential retail is all the rage. Shopping for, buying and using products amounts to an experience for consumers. Carefully target your consumer, provide great packaging with a strong message and merge your strategy with evolving trends. These steps will encourage shoppers to identify with your store’s brands, develop strong loyalty and keep coming back for more.