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How to Compete Against E-Commerce as an Independent Pet Store

Competing with the e-commerce world is a battle that every independent pet retailer must face. With e-commerce sales now accounting for 8.1% of total retail sales, it's a potential threat that is constantly growing year over year. In fact, online retail sales grow around 1% on average quarter-over-quarter (with Q1 being an exception due to lack of holiday sales). 

With online sales growing so rapidly, it's no wonder many pet retailers are struggling to keep up. The same continues to be true for any pet and pet supply stores within the United States. Fortunately with brick and mortar, the consumer gets the experience of touching, feeling, and interacting both with the products and sales associates. However, online retailers also offer the benefits of shopping anywhere, any time (at the dog park, buying that new toy the other dog is playing with, for example).

There are pros and cons to both shopping experiences, and there's no doubt e-commerce is a rising monster. Fortunately, there are ways that independent pet stores can ensure they stay ahead of the game, even when the game is changing so rapidly. In this article, you'll learn how to compete against e-commerce as an independent pet store.

Learn the basics of SEO and use it to your advantage

As a brick and mortar store, the first thing you're going to want to do is set up a website for your store. You may be thinking, "If I'm strictly brick and mortar, what do I need a website for?" Having an online presence is absolutely crucial these days in the digital age. Even just a simple website with basic information about your store will be better than nothing.

Setting up a website doesn't have to be difficult, either. There are many user-friendly, free website hosting services that will work wonderfully for your purposes. Our personal favorite is Wordpress, as it's free and very easy to use, even for beginners. Find a step-by-step guide on setting up a website here.

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Once you have your website set up, you'll need to learn the basics of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, in order to stand out from the crowd of other pet stores trying to have an online presence. While it may sound slightly scary at first, don't fear, as optimizing your website can be as easy as you make it. 

When optimizing your website, you'll want to follow these steps:

  1. Come up with some primary topics that your website will cover and write them down. If you own a pet shop, you'll want to write down words such as "pet store" or "pet supplies." 
    • Hint: Think of topics that are differentiating for your store...do you only sell cat and dog supplies? Are you specialized in organic foods? Include words such as these in your list (i.e. "Pet store selling organic food").
  2. Then, write down more that include your location. If you're a pet supply store in Seattle, write down "pet store in Seattle" or "pet store in Western Washington."
  3. Congratulations, you have now come up with your initial keywords. Now, you'll want to use those to conduct some keyword research. Basically, you'll want to find out whether your words are things that your consumers are actually searching for online. Use tools such as Google Trends, Google Keywords Planner, Moz, and SEOBook to figure out which keywords will give you the highest ranking possibilities.

To find out more and get a little more in-depth about doing keyword research, visit this beginner's guide by HubSpot

Once your keywords are ready to go, you'll want to start optimizing your website with them. In order to start optimizing your website for Search Engine Optimization, you'll want to follow these steps:

  1. Start with an audit of your website. If you already have a website, and content on it, that you're already using, you'll want to go through and make sure your content is already optimized to be ranked on search engines. Follow the steps under step one here to complete your audit
  2. Remember those keywords we just came up with? Now you'll want to put them to use by placing them into 5 critical places on your website. Following the 5 crucial places below, let's say you have a page discussing how you go about choosing cat food for your pet store, and that "natural cat food in Seattle" is your keyword. You'll want to make sure your keyword is somehow mentioned in all of the 5 places below.
    1. Titles
    2. Descriptions
    3. Headings and Content
    4. Images Titles & Alt Text (Wordpress has a box for "Alt Text" when you upload images, place your keywords in there)
    5. URLs
  1. Avoid search penalties. There are ways to actually ruin your SEO ranking by doing things differently than Google, or another search engine such as Bing, would like for you to do. Don't hide your keywords, stuff them into every other sentence, or force your keywords where they don't belong. Believe it or not, Google's algorithms are smarter than that. 

Find out more about optimizing your website here.

Turn your store into an omni-channel experience

The most efficient way to take advantage of the rising popularity of online retailing is by turning your brick & mortar store into an omni-channel experience. Basically, the concept of omni-channel is providing your customers with a seamless experience through all shopping platforms. This means, whether your customer is sitting at home in her pajamas on a Friday night at 10pm looking to buy more Applaws for her hungry cat (hey, it happens), or she's out on a Saturday afternoon picking up some Fruitables treats for her dog on the way home, she will have a consistently integrated retail experience. 

Related Article: How to Choose the Best Cat Food for your Pet Store

Now, keep in mind that omni-channel does differ from multi-channel, which is the approach that many retailers (including yourself) are using. You may already have a Facebook, Twitter, website, and physical location, but do they all work seamlessly together to drive traffic, and ultimately, sales?

While it sounds wonderful, it does require some work to accomplish. However, the pay off is definitely worth it, as you'll receive repeat customers who remember you for your unique and wonderful shopping experience. Additionally, keep in mind that even if you don't see yourself or your company able to implement an in-depth and complete omni-channel experience at this time, there are steps you can take that will get you there in the long run.

1) Have a consistent brand message across all channels

This is probably the easiest step to implement, and will go a long way toward making sure your consumers have a consistent and seamless experience whenever they interact with your store. You'll want to make sure all of your branding (colors, logo, brand message) is consistent across the board on all channels. Keeping your branding consistent will allow your consumers to immediately make the distinction between you and your messaging. 

2) Integrate your customer's purchasing experience

While you may not want to turn your website in to an online store, per say, you might want to list your brands and a selection of products, using unique item descriptions that you can ask your vendors to supply for you, and match what your target customer is looking for. Then, you might want to make it easy for your shopper to make a buying decision right then and there by offering a way to pick up their favorite products in store. Think of it this way:

Your customer has a need for cat food that will help prevent potential health issues such as diabetes. So, with some research, he finds out that Applaws might be the solution. He searches online for where to find Applaws cat food in his area, and comes across your website (which should happen with the SEO optimization we just went through!). He finds the product he is most interested in, and since he's already made a buying decision, he just wants to make sure it's available at the store. With one click of a button, or a quick "Contact Us" message to your store, he places the product on hold so he can pick it up at your store on the way home from work tomorrow. 

While this might be best-case scenario, it's an example of how integrating your online and offline experiences makes it easy for customers to have a personalized and enjoyable experience while shopping with your store. This is the kind of experience they won't be able to get when shopping amazon.com, and the reason why they will continue coming back to you for their Applaws cat food.

Related Article: How to Build Employee Confidence in your Pet Store

Personalize your communications with your customers

Personalizing your communications with your customers and prospects is just one more way to really compete with the e-commerce crowd. As an independent pet shop, you likely have regulars who come in every Tuesday for their favorite brand of rabbit food. Imagine if you captured their, and/or their pet's, birthday, and sent them an invite every year to come in your store for a free bag of rabbit food? 

Another way to keep your communications with your customers personalized is by capturing their information at POS, and then using it later on to invite them to special "invite only in-store events." These events can be anything you'd like, from rabbit revolution training sessions to just a fun time to go shopping with fellow local pet owners. Is October the month you'll focus on promoting products with pumpkin in them? Do a fun "hide the pumpkin" event where you hide a cut-out paper pumpkin with a special coupon throughout the store and invite your customers who might be interested.

The options for personalized communications are seemingly endless. Have you done something especially exciting to draw in your customers? Share in the comments below! 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Hoffman – E-Commerce & Digital Marketing Manager joined the All Points family in April of 2015. Ashley brings a fresh outlook to the marketing industry as well as a constant desire for learning something new. She is dedicated to consistently improving her skills and efficiency in the marketing industry and using those skills to promote APM and all brands we represent. Ashley has grown up with many animals throughout her life and is currently the loving owner of two cats.

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