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Keeping Independent Pet Stores Alive During Rise of E-Commerce

Amazon is taking over the world.

At least that's what they keep telling us. In fact, during this year's Pet Industry Leadership Conference, Amazon representatives revealed news we already knew was coming: they're coming for the pet industry, and they're coming strong. They forecast that by the end of 2018, they will encompass about 16% of market share at $8.2 billion in pet product sales.

Many independent pet stores are struggling to stay relevant during a time when 2-day delivery is the standard and ordering cat food in pajamas is as easy as "1-click order".

The scariest part of this news isn't just the fact that Amazon is going to step up their game, but rather the fact that they haven't even tried yet, at least not to the extent they're going to be pushing it.

So when Amazon tells us they're ready to attack, what can small businesses do to not only keep their doors open, but also continue to make profit?

Improve Online Presence to Stay in Front of Customers

These days, technology is everywhere. You, your employees, and your customers are using it on a daily basis to inform our decisions, interact with both loved ones and businesses, and stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Because of this, maintaining an active and relevant online presence is crucial to staying in front of both current and potential customers. There are a number of ways to do this, most of which don't have to be time or resource consuming.


Keep Your Website Updated

When was the last time you logged in to your website and updated it? Does it look like it hasn't been changed since 1997. Or perhaps maybe you don't have a website?

Think of your website as the portal to your business - a space on the Internet that you own and can use to increase your brand presence, promote customer loyalty, and build relationships. For many, it's the face of your company - it's what they (should) find when they type in "pet stores near me" on Google.

There's no such thing as a "perfect" website, as it changes based on your unique circumstances. However, there are certain elements to a well-maintained website. These include:

  1. Mobile-friendly and responsive design
  2. Optimized for search engine results (SEO)
  3. Consistently published content for relevancy
  4. A user-friendly experience

These four elements will make sure your customers find your business when they're searching for a solution that you offer (i.e. pet products and services), can access that information on any device, and easily navigate your site to find it.

Related Article: Pet Business Marketing Guide - Step Two: Managing Website Presence

Engaging on Social Media

In addition to having an updated website, maintaining consistent engagement on social media channels ensures you stay in front of the right audience at the right time. These days, it's not enough to simply post a cute picture of a puppy once a week and hope for the traffic to come pouring in. As social media grows, so does the algorithms and best use-cases for using it.

To begin engaging on social media, the first step is to choose key social platforms to be present on. As an independent pet store, you may not have a whole lot of time to manage multiple accounts on various channels. That's why it's better to stick to 1-3 key platforms rather than trying to be on everything at once.

Once you've chosen your channels, brainstorm content that your audience would appreciate and create a calendar for you and your team to go off of. This will ensure you stay on track and keeps you from scrambling at the last second to figure out something to post.

Then, to grow your audience, make sure you're using the right hashtags. Conduct some research to see which ones are popular with your audience and incorporate them, along with a few self-branded ones, in your social media strategy.

If you want to dive deeper into engaging on social media, here are a few resources that may help:

Focus on Value Proposition

What's the main difference between an independent pet store and an e-commerce site or big box? While the specificity of the answer may vary, many will agree that customer service, local personality and charm, and a special attention to customers what stands out about local businesses.

In a Facebook comment on a Pet Business Magazine post, a store manager at a pet store in California said it perfectly:

Although prices are cheap on Amazon....we provide things a computer can't. In our company we go through training on nutrition, training and more. We LOVE our customer's animals. We take the time to figure out the perfect diet for your dog/cat with sensitivities, we find the perfect toys and chews for your new pup, we get you resources for the shots you need or flea medicine....what to do if your pet gets worms or dry skin or whatever! We CARE.

You already know this because you already do this. The key here is simply: don't forget where you came from and why you're in this business. If you keep that at the forefront of everything you do, then success should follow.

Related Article: 5 Tips to Stay Motivated and Inspired by the Pet Industry

Create an Omni-Channel Experience

You have a store, a website, three social media accounts, and a few flyers posted up around town. You might even have an e-commerce site set up and connected to your store's inventory. Now that you have all these channels, think about this: what message is each channel sending out? Are they cohesive or are they all over the place?

Once you begin using multiple platforms to stay in front of your audience, ask yourself: are they working together, or against each other, to seamlessly drive foot traffic and increase sales?

Having all your channels work together this way is what is called an omni-channel experience, and these are the elements that go into creating one:

  1. Having a clear and consistent brand message across all channels
  2. Integrating your customer's customer experience between each platform

As scary as Amazon might be, think about this: they only have one channel. You have four, and you can personalize each and every one of them to your specific customers. That gives you the power over them, as long as you use it correctly.

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


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Ashley Hoffman is a freelance content marketer and writer for the pet industry. Growing up in the pet industry, she has keen insight on market trends and a passion for helping small businesses grow. Her portfolio includes various topics from pet food trends to using technology and marketing strategies to boost pet business sales. When she's not writing articles or working her day job, she's playing with her cat (Chewie), reading a book, or hiking one of Washington's many trails.

Visit her: Website | LinkedIn | Instagram

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