Pet parents and fur babies: how independent pet retailers can drive long-term loyalty

Pet retailers

Millennials are increasingly delaying traditional milestones like getting married, buying a house or having children and more commonly choosing to become pet owners instead. This is a generation that really loves their pets – so much so that some are even willing to reduce spend on themselves so that their animals can keep up with the latest trends.

Whilst pets have long been considered part of the family, the trend for pampering them as if they were children suggests that ownership of a cat or a dog might mean something more to the millennial generation than it did their parents or grandparents. For millennials, these animals are considered a commitment to the same level as having children.

For the pet industry, understanding these evolving trends and changing relationships between people and their pets is crucial. While price, product mix and other promotions can help retailers remain competitive within the landscape, it’s now more important than ever for retailers to put additional effort into creating deeper emotional connections and advocacy with pet parents. This is especially true for independent retailers. But how can independents in this sector genuinely connect with ‘pet parents’ and drive long-term loyalty?

Engaging pet parents with a relevant offering

Millennials are reshaping the industry with their changing demands and expectations. For independents, surviving the expansion of the larger retailers – including ecommerce giants such as Amazon – comes down to understanding these new customers and engaging them with an offering that is relevant and personal to them.

The relationships that people have with their pets is now more emotional and powerful than ever before. Independent pet retailers, by nature of their size, are more nimble and able to adapt quickly to these changing situations and new preferences of the consumer. For many larger counterparts, this level of flexibility is a challenge – resulting in missed opportunities to provide relevant experiences and engage customers at the right moment.

For example, many owners are seeking healthier, bespoke dietary alternatives for their four-legged friends, along with practical outfits for their comfort, travel accessories to protect them when on the move and even pampering services such spas and hotels. For more niche products and services like these, consumers are more likely to seek expert advice from smaller operations able to deliver a more bespoke customer experience.

Consumers want to feel valued, and this is particularly true for pet parents. These customers want to buy from experts in the field – those who are knowledgeable and passionate about what they are offering, as well as compassionate about the welfare of animals too. When it comes to advice and guidance, they want a high standard at all touch points. When retailers meet these needs successfully, the trust developed makes them more likely to become a repeat purchaser and advocate of the overall brand.

Data-driven personalisation

When it comes to online operations, smaller brands all too often fall victim to the notion that only large tech giants can access sophisticated technology to reach consumers. But independents can keep consumers as engaged and feeling appreciated using the right technological support for their needs.

For example, these retailers can leverage customer data for delivering relevant, useful and personalised experiences for pet parents at every stage of the journey. Relevancy in this sense is not just about sending an offer at the point of purchase but rather about creating and crafting experiences tailored to individual behaviours and preferences whilst responding to the evolving world around them.

Within the pet industry, the brands transforming their categories are increasingly those leveraging technology. Independent UK brand Bella and Duke, for example, offers dog owners nutritious raw dog food subscriptions – creating healthy and tasty concoctions for their customers wanting to give their dogs a healthy lifestyle. This creates a unique opportunity to nurture customers and get to know their preferences inside out.

Beyond using this information to send offers and email newsletters, it can be utilised to remind owners of their pet’s birthdays, offer pet health and well-being tips, share new pet fashion fads or solutions for overcoming separation anxiety. Above all, intelligently leveraging data insights ensures the right content is reaching the right audience and this is critical to standing out amongst the competition.

For online-only retailers, social media is also becoming particularly valuable for this. The likes of Facebook and Instagram are not only effective in driving awareness and opening conversations with customers, but also as a marketplace. These channels can be used for providing useful and engaging content that encourages customers to interact or click through. These are great platforms for reinforcing incentives that are targeted to customers initially by email, and for letting customers know when there is news to share.

Ultimately, driving long-term loyalty comes down to giving pet parents a positive interaction every time they engage with a brand. One of the best ways to ensure this happens is to listen and adapt to the customer’s evolving wants and needs. Independent retailers have a golden opportunity to thrive in a challenging and quickly changing retail environment. Even in difficult trading climates, it’s possible for the smallest pet brands to earn themselves a large, loyal fanbase by exceeding expectations and delivering unique customer experiences.