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Retailers Should Take Notice of Millennials’ Love for Their Pets


October 31, 2018

Maybe it was when the term “fur babies” arrived on Earth. Pet lovers have always loved their pets—that’s a tautology, you understand— but it’s probably fair to say that millennials have in many ways taken that love to a whole new level. Maybe it’s the fact that they marry later or tend to show less interest in having children, but the millennial pet owner seems to have taken it up a notch when it comes to humanizing pets.

Not that this should be a problem for pet retailers—far from it. If the pet plays the role of de facto child, then the pet will need lots of things (or at least the owners will think the pet needs those things). This world sounds like a pet retailer’s dream.

But will millennials really spend enough on their pets to make this a serious business opportunity for pet retailers? A recent TD Ameriprise survey offers some interesting insight about that.

In interviews with millennial pet owners, TD Ameriprise found that dog owners spend an average of $1,285 per year on their canines, while cat owners came in a little behind at $915 per year. Obviously a fair amount of that spending will be for food and trips to the vet, but that should still leave room for more elective spending on pets.

How do you take advantage of that as a pet retailer? And how do you square the millennial’s willingness to spend on pets with the limits of the millennial’s ability to spend on pets?

It might be a good time to look into stronger promotions of emerging pet accessories, especially advanced items like the high-tech collars you’ve read about in Pet Age and will surely read about here again. If those flip phones from a decade ago are too primitive for you, then surely you don’t expect your fur baby to walk around wearing a collar that doesn’t even require a power source.

You know the products, so you’re familiar with their value proposition. Can you sell them to millennials? Keep in mind that this is a demographic very open to things that make their lives simpler and more automated. They may want to pamper their pets, but there’s also the ever-present question about whether the pets care that the accessory is modern or high-tech (spoiler: they don’t). But if the pet accessory also simplifies life for the millennial owner, now we’re getting somewhere.

Then again, there might be something to be said for appealing to vanity. The pet may not see the need for a manicure, but millennial owners may have a sense that they’re treating the pets extra special by springing for one. The pet may not care that his or her owner lives and dies by the New York Giants, but the owner does!

You know darn well they make Giants jerseys in pet sizes, so why not? That hound looks as agile in that thing as some of the Giants’ receivers, and just might be.

And that brings up another undeniable truth we must consider when we’re marketing pet products to millennials: If there’s one thing millennials love to do, it is posting pictures on social media. And if there’s anything more photogenic than your pet, I can’t think what it is.

Cute accessories that make for memorable Instagram posts might seem pointless to you, but don’t underestimate the value of products that get 7,000 likes and 800 shares from friends online.

Millennials are not, by definition, at the peak of their earning power. They may love the idea of spending lavishly on their pets, but they also need roommates to help cover the rent, and many of them aren’t putting dogs ahead of groceries or bar money in the monthly budget.

High-end pet accessories will best appeal to millennials if they a) provide exceptional value, perhaps by eliminating the necessity to buy something else; b) offer a very long, useful life so the buyer can see it as a good deal over the long term; or c) attach as a package deal to the purchase of something else they already need. Maybe they get half off an accessory once they’ve purchased a certain amount of food from you in a given year. You might take a slight loss on the accessory, but it could incentivize the pet owners to make their more fundamental purchases with you on a consistent basis.

Finally, consider the appeal to the heart in all this. The basic idea here is that we have a generation that loves their pets deeply. They want to pamper them, treat them and give them the highest quality of life they possibly can.

There’s a distinction to be made between that type of bond with a pet as opposed to a pet owner who just wants the pet to behave itself and create as little trouble as possible. That doesn’t mean the latter type doesn’t love the pet, but there’s a difference in the type of emotional bond we’re talking about.

My generation loves its pets, too, but we probably wouldn’t pose for a portrait with them. It’s a new age driven by new attitudes. And there’s something to be said for extending a little more of one’s heart to the “fur baby” of the household.

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