What should a pet store shopping experience be like? Is it primarily a maze of aisles and shelving designed to push out boxes, cans and bags at velocity?
In the absence of a thoughtful and strategic approach to building added value into your store shopping experience, you are flirting with the potential for disintermediation by online channels. E-commerce screams ease and convenience in an otherwise undifferentiated and potentially lackluster retail shopping environment.
Your Store Brand Experience
Pet care is one of the world’s greatest and most dynamic ‘high involvement’ business categories. For the very reason pets are a critical component of family life married to a deep trove of emotional attachments that go along with care and ownership. While we don’t often carry emotional connectivity with toothpaste and paper towels, we care greatly about the nutrition we feed our pets alongside other relevant products that fill out the dimensions of a satisfying pet lifestyle from treats to grooming.
Pets don’t come with an ownership manual per se, so the opportunities for a retailer to become a coach and guide on the pet care journey are legion. Yet, more often than not, the shopping experience doesn’t really move beyond a focus on pricing and traditional endcap one word? product promotion. Been there, done that. How do you reimagine the shopping experience to go from treats in aisle 1 to a memorable surprise and delight experience? One that keeps people coming back because what they encounter is unique, exceptional and unexpected.
Roadmap to a Rare Retail Experience
What business are you truly in? For reinvention, this is where you start. When you decide you are in the pet love and lifestyle business, of which food, toys and other products are facilitators, you are opening the door to rethinking how surprise and delight could work into what people encounter past your front door.
Experience and Experiences
I live in Chicago. Last week a new retail store opened on the Magnificent Mile called the Museum of Ice Cream. Its founder claims the store is designed purely to engage the senses. The 56-foot sprinkles “pool” for kids supplies some evidence. Yes, you can buy ice cream there but that’s not the chin they lead with. Immersion in wonder, surprise, entertainment and visual inspiration is the retail concept. Just going in there creates talk value. The social media sharing part of this Instagram-able ode to our love affair with ice cream blows up the rule book on what a store experience should or could be.
Pet parents have an insatiable hunger to know more about care and experiences with their pets. If your retail brand is the coach and guide, how do you show up creatively in-store to satisfy that goal?
Role of Higher Purpose
This gets a whole lot easier to do when your retail brand and company are informed by a higher purpose that transcends transactional behavior to helping author the wish list of what an inspiring pet lifestyle could include.
Here’s how one progressive people food retailer defines their company’s higher purpose: no name?
“We provide tools, guidance, insight and education to help people understand how to fulfill their healthy lifestyle goals and culinary interests; inspiring the behaviors and activities that can transform their happiness and wellbeing. We curate extraordinary, local, natural and healthy foods, beverages and lifestyle products and believe that excitement, wonder and learning should inhabit the experiences our customers have in our stores.”
Don’t know about you but I want to buy my groceries there.
How you plan and design the store experience begins with how you think about your business. Your goal is to zig when everyone else zags. So much of what we see in pet retailing banner to banner is the same. Differentiation is a way to own and occupy a unique place in the consumer’s mind. By separating, elevating and distinguishing your retail experience you become memorable. Pet parents can sense your commitment to celebrating the lifestyle they want to lead with their pets.
You can become an enabler of experiences that demonstrate that commitment. Collaborations like a partnership with a neighborhood restaurant that not only wants customers to bring their pets to dine with them, but also offers a menu for dogs. The list is endless of ways to create experiences inside and outside your four walls that engage the companionship muscle or facilitates an adventure.
It’s a Journey
The highest peak of openness to learning and absorption is when the new pet comes home. Puppy, kitten or rescue, the new family member is the start of a decade or more of involvement. Are you there to inform, educate, assist new pet owners on care, feeding, training and related needs? This is your bonding opportunity with new customers. Think past the kibble bag discount.
Reimagine. Reinvent. Toss the rulebook. Be different. Inspire your customers. If you do this get ready to be talked about, endlessly. That’s good for business!
Robert Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Emergent can help pet brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity and deeper meaning in their pet parent relationships and brand communication.