Golden opportunity

Where do consumers want to purchase their pet food products and pet supply products? More importantly, what factors are driving shoppers to buy pet products at a particular outlet?

Grocery Headquarters and its sister publications Pet Business and The Pet Aisle, commissioned a study of consumers to determine their shopping habits when it comes to purchasing pet products. We found that while consumers remain very concerned about expertise when shopping, many of them put convenience and, most importantly, price ahead of in-store support.

For those two reasons, primarily, more and more shoppers said they were purchasing their pet products at mass market outlets, with industry giant Wal-Mart leading the charge, followed by the key supermarket chains. The study, which was conducted in mid-August in California, New York, Washington, D.C. and Florida, found that more than 50% of shoppers now regularly purchase the bulk of the pet supplies at mass market chains. In addition, more than 80% of consumers said they purchased their pet food at mass market outlets. Surprisingly, even a large majority (64%) of shoppers who said they were seeking premium pet foods bought these products at mass retail outlets.

For most shoppers, price was the most important reason for the decision to purchase pet products at discount stores and supermarkets. Consumers, by a wide margin, said that they believe that the mass market retailers offered better pricing than pet specialty retailers and even PetSmart and PETCO, the two major pet specialty retailers.

In fact, when asked, more than 25% of consumers said that they thought they were saving more than 20% on pet products when they shopped at a discount or grocery store over what they would spend at a pet specialty store. Just 4% of shoppers said that independent pet specialty stores offered the best pricing for pet products, while about 18% of shoppers said that PetSmart and PETCO offered the best pricing on pet items.

The lingering recession seems to be helping mass retailers gain more market share. Many suppliers have noted that consumers are looking for the most inexpensive place and the place that is the easiest to shop. “Especially with the economy in the condition it is in, the consumer is looking for value and that helps to spur the move to grocery stores and mass merchandisers,” says Paul Zobel, the director of sales and marketing at Muscatine, Iowa-based World’s Best Cat Litter.

Other vendors agreed that the recession was causing havoc with consumers’ shopping patterns. “There is a lot of pressure on the consumer and what ever they can do to make life easier, is what they are looking for,” says Leslie Yellin, director of business development for Moonachie, N.J.-based Multipet Inter­national. “Consumers do not want to make the extra stop. I still believe that pet products are not that price sensitive, but they may be more sensitive on the commodity items like food and cat litter.”

Mass retailers continue to fall short on service in the pet aisle and that continues to hurt them with consumers. Just 12% of those surveyed think that such chains as Wal-Mart and the various major supermarkets do a good job in servicing the pet aisle. Conversely, nearly 65% said that mass retailers do an average or poor job servicing the section. Even worse, fewer than 10% of consumers think that mass retailers do an adequate or better job of educating consumers about new trends in pet products and pet food.

“The interesting thing is that the consumer is getting educated at the pet specialty stores or the independent pet retailers and then they are going back to the mass market retailers to make their purchases after a time or two for future purchases,” says Zobel. “If the mass retailers were able to make it a better, more fulfilling shopping experience, they could get these shoppers at the very start.”

Will consumers go back to traditional pet stores when the recession ends? The survey results says that most will not, primarily because it is easier to purchase pet supplies at the same location as they purchase other items. But the onus may be on the mass retailer to keep performing. “If mass retailers want to keep the long term relationship they need to refresh their sets and keep up with the trends,” notes Yellin. “They need to keep the sections neat and clean. They still have a challenge ahead of them because they do not have the expertise. So they need better signage and explanations.”  

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