Pet Food Marketing: Making the Most of Digital Channels

Stuart Elmes

It is estimated that the UK is home to 54 million pets, while in America there are approximately 180 million dogs and cats. And these pets all need to eat. Pet food seems like it would be a perfect product for online shopping: most consumers are loyal to their brand, it’s easy to predict when replenishment is needed, and the item itself is bulky and difficult to carry home. Let’s take a look at how pet brands are using digital marketing channels in an industry that’s perfect for eCommerce.

 

The Past and the Present

Pet food marketing: making the most of digital channels

Launched in 1998, the website pets.com was the first business to push pet brands online. While their idea was inspired, they drastically overestimated demand for their services with a public that wasn’t quite ready to buy online. The company became a poster child for the dot-com bust, and the concept of buying pet products online disappeared for a few years.

But as eCommerce has become commonplace, pet care sales have been moving online. Nielsen has reported that currently 21% of sales in the industry happen online, and that in the past year the share of sales has shifted by 9% towards eCommerce. According to a Packaged Facts survey, 37% of pet owners agreed with the statement “I am buying pet products online more often than I used to.”

 

Why Has Digital Marketing Been So Successful?

 

Reasons cited for the shift to eCommerce in the industry include the wide array of products available online, low shipping costs, and convenient auto-replenishment programs. As we so often see in the digital sphere, the company leading the way in almost all of these areas is Amazon. The retail giant has surpassed the traditional brick and mortar pet care leaders (Petco, PetSmart, and Wal-Mart in the US) in online sales, and attracts more than half of the consumers who purchase pet products online.

Why is Amazon Succeeding?

Consumers are always looking for more convenient ways to accomplish tasks, and Amazon has found a winning idea with the Dash Button, which monitors levels of laundry detergent, coffee or printer ink, and automatically orders more when supplies run low. In the pet care industry, they’ve teamed with Wagz to offer a smart feeder which offers Dash service to pet owners. According to Wagz CEO Terry Anderton, “Dash Replenishment integration in our feeder gives people one less thing to worry about and one less errand to run. Pet owners can rely on Dash Replenishment without having to think about remembering to re-order dog food or lug around heavy bags.”

The Amazon Echo’s voice shopping capabilities are another powerful enticement towards the company. Because voice shopping is extremely well-suited to product replenishment, it is perfect for pet food. All a consumer needs to say is “Alexa, order dog food,” and the product is on its way to their door. But brands need to be wary of becoming too dependent on Amazon.

 

Why Amazon’s Success Endangers Pet Care Brands

pet food marketing: making the most of digital channels

When Alexa receives a voice search for a product, it first recommends a Prime eligible product that the customer has ordered before. The next item it recommends (or the one it recommends if one hasn’t ordered a similar product before) is “Amazon’s Choice” in that category.  If Amazon were to make your line of pet products ineligible for Prime shipping, all Alexa searches would lead consumers to “Amazon’s Choice.”

Amazon launched its own brand of dog food, Wag, in May of this year, and plans to add other products to its private label pet care line. In light of this, it’s pretty easy to guess what “Amazon’s Choice” will be when consumers ask Alexa to buy the giant sacks of dry dog food they don’t want to carry home from the supermarket. If your brand relies heavily on Amazon, you are relying on a direct competitor’s goodwill for sales. Perhaps this isn’t the brightest idea.

 

How Can Other Brands Compete?

For one giant in the pet care industry, the answer was acquiring the successful website Chewy.com for $3.35 billion. PetSmart made the most expensive eCommerce acquisition ever in February of this year. Chewy has succeeded in competition with Amazon because of its intensive focus on customer service. The company employs 1400 CSRs and runs a 24 hour a day helpline without any automated answering services. Chewy succeeds by offering intimate personal relationships to people who love their pets.

If your brand isn’t looking to compete with Amazon by spending billions on an established eCommerce website with a massive customer service infrastructure, then shoppable marketing is a must. As consumers come to realize how easy and convenient it is to automatically replenish dog food, they’re unlikely to go back to brick and mortar stores. In order to compete, you’ll need to find a way for them to buy your product with all the ease of voice shopping and automatic replenishment.

The UK’s leading independent pet food producer, Inspired Pet Nutrition, has the right idea. The firm worked with us to create one of the world’s first video ads that enables consumers to purchase their product directly from the screen. The technology we’ve developed allows consumers to view prices at 9 different retailers, and choose where they want to buy without leaving the video screen.

According to IPN’s CEO Daniel Reeves, “Adimo’s technology provides our customers with an instant online purchase opportunity. We know that shoppers have a growing range of deliveries to contend with, and so providing an instant checkout across our video and websites means we can make their day that little bit more straightforward.

In the pet care industry, success and failure will be dictated by the level of trust and convenience on offer. If consumers already love your product, they’ll stand by you so long as you find a way to make buying your products as easy as buying from Amazon.