They are efficient. They can afford smaller margins. They're open 24/7. They can deliver at the blink of an eye. They stock every brand of pet food a pet owner could ever want. They have an entire customer service department dedicated to answering questions and taking care of concerns.
...and that's not all.
As we move into a time when things are faster, ever-present, and more efficient than ever, we're seeing the rise of e-commerce take off. And why not, when replenishing your cat litter can be as easy as five taps on your phone, a two-hour waiting period, and a dedicated delivery person at your door with the good stuff?
The rise of e-commerce is a looming threat over the pet industry, and with Amazon announcing their plan of attack on the pet category in 2018, it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. Because of this, pet stores are scrambling to figure out their unique value proposition.
Pet stores can, and certainly have been, focus on their optimal customer service, attention to detail, neatly curated store shelves, near-immediacy, and a feel-good atmosphere of shopping at the local pet store.
That's all well and good, but they can only take a business so far. E-commerce will continue to develop; their delivery speeds are bound to increase and automated chat bots are making customer service easier than ever.
Yet, even with all the development we're seeing with online shopping, there's one element of the pet industry - of good 'ole physical pet stores - that Amazon can never take away. Pets.
Without Pets, There's No Pet Industry
Think about it. No matter what your position is on where pets should be bred, purchased, adopted, or found, everything boils down to one thing: the ability to own a pet is what keeps our industry around.
The dog that comes running to the front door when you get home from work, covering your face with more slobber than you'd ever like to see. The cat who decides she wants exactly 2.37 minutes of cuddling before it's time to play with - or attack - your hand.
These are the animals who bring us joy, allow us for care for a someone else's life, teach us responsibility, and - at the end of the day - bring home a steady paycheck.
Without them, there would be no top-selling dog food, no innovative smart dog toy, and no top-of-the-line rabbit hutch. Without them, we wouldn't have the jobs we have, we wouldn't come home to those adorably loyal faces.
Pets are on the way out. In fact, in October 2017, California passed the first state-wide ban on the sale of pets in pet stores unless they're sourced from shelters or rescue groups.
Upon first glance, this looks like a win for the pet industry. A win for animal advocates everywhere. After all, no one in the pet industry wants to see animals tortured and kept in inhumane conditions. But is this really as good as it seems?
In a recent article, Why We Shouldn't Just Adopt From Animal Shelters, we explored the question: are pet stores at the root of the problem? Will banning the sale of pets in stores actually solve this?
According to the owner of Pet Express Boston, Rob Mellace, "If the goal is to eliminate 'puppy mills’ why are we not eliminating the source? The unregulated sales of Internet puppy mill puppies will only continue to grow and consumers will be left with no protection" (Source).
We are not saying that there is anything wrong with adopting from an animal shelter, and potentially saving a life. In fact, it's a great way to help a dog find a home who might never have done so otherwise.
Keeping Pets in Pet Stores
There's a growing debate about whether or not selling livestock in pet stores is inhumane and the reason behind the nightmares and horror stories we hear about backyard breeders.
These debates stem from marketing campaigns, a couple of bad players who drown out the actions of everyone doing it right, and the underlying desire we all have to keep innocent animals safe and far from harm.
Yet, they may be hurting pets - and the industry - more than helping them. The key to keeping pets in the pet industry while also keeping them safe and protecting pet choice for those who want to take on the responsibility of being a pet parent.
Instead, pet stores may want to consider bringing pets back into the game. This may:
- Act as a way to bring in customers that e-commerce can never truly replicate
- Allow you to control where the animals come from and the environment they're kept in
- Provide a safe, regulated space for pets to find their new forever homes
A New Solution. A Better Solution.
Rather than banning the sale of pets altogether, why not work to enforce strict regulations to keep it safe, humane, and positive for everyone involved?
To quote a recent article, Changing the Way We Sell Live Animals in Pet Stores, in order to improve animal welfare and industry standards, we must abide by the following:
- Making the sourced breeder(s) known to the public
- Only sourcing animals from regularly checked, licensed, and high standard breeders
- Creating more strict guidelines and regulations for breeders to follow
- Ensuring strict enforcement of these regulations so breeders don't fall through the cracks
But don't just take it from us. Sheila Goffe, AKC Vice President of Government Relations explains:
“A much smarter solution is to educate future pet owners about the demands of responsible pet ownership; support responsible breeders, including local breeders who breed high-quality pets; encourage public interaction with local breeders and other educated pet experts who can advise prospective owners; strongly enforce existing laws against negligence or cruelty; support the needs of our local shelters; and ensure access to a variety of pets so owners can make a good choice for their pet’s life-long success."
A new standards program called Canine Care Certified has recently been developed to regulate breeders. These standards were developed by a group of dedicated breeders who partnered with Purdue University to research and design the science-based Standards of Care.
So, instead of taking pets away from the pet industry, let's find a way to bring them back in - and do so in a way that's as responsible, and humane, as possible. Then, and only then, will we be able to kill two birds with one stone: protecting yourself against the threat of e-commerce and provide a safe way for pets to find their forever homes.