As COVID-19 restrictions ease, what’s the new normal for brick-and-mortar pet retail?
May 28, 2020
As some states begin easing back on COVID-19 restrictions, the world is slowly starting to reopen. Still, things aren’t going to spring back to life as we knew it back in early March. The world is different now. What do these changes mean for brick-and-mortar pet retailers and their customers? Here are a few things to think about as we all figure out exactly how this new normal is going to take shape.
Will pet parents still want quality pet products?
In the minds and hearts of pet parents, their four-legged friends are full-fledged family members. After going through the stress of the pandemic and quarantine, it’s safe to say the pet-human bond is stronger than ever. In survey after survey, pet parents say they’d sooner give up something else in their lives before they cut back on the pet necessities. It’s for that reason many refer to the pet industry as recession proof. On the other hand, national unemployment reached 17%, as of the end of April. The reality is many customers will be making tough choices around their spending, and the effects of that remain to be seen.
Pets and wellness take center stage
Think about how staying home has changed the lives of dogs and their pet parents. Those extra walks, the weekend hikes through nature centers and playing games in the backyard will likely become more of a permanent part of their routines. Second, the threat of a serious viral infection has forced many to think deeply about keeping themselves healthy — and by extension, keeping their pets healthy. As these lifestyle changes become permanent, think about how you can meet those needs, whether it’s through sharing content or producing online videos around educating pet parents about living happy and healthy.
How will consumer habits change?
The pandemic created seismic waves in consumer behavior. One that retailers will be watching closely as stay-at-home orders lift is whether ecommerce will linger. Brick-and-mortar businesses added it to help customers practice social distancing. Now that they’ve tried it, many will decide to keep it. One possible outcome will find pet retailers building and strengthening online offerings to meet the needs of these click-and-collect converts. (If you haven’t implemented one yet, eTailPet is a solution you can set to go live quickly. If you sign up, NutriSource will pay for the second month of service if you provide the promo code “NutriSource – Support Local.”)
At the same time, you’ll want to examine other shifts in consumer behavior, and aim your marketing accordingly. For example, the “support local” movement. If anything, the pandemic inspired a segment of consumers to prioritize local businesses, which essentially hands you a salient marketing message. Also, think of the new faces that came in your door at the height of the panic buying we all witnessed in March, which emptied shelves at big box retailers and grocery stores. Build on that by sharing more about your brand — your story, what you’re about and what you stand for. Now that they gave you try, they may like what you have to say, and choose to make it permanent.
[Read more about adding e-commerce to brick-and-mortar pet retail.]
Convey a culture of health
It’s hard to say how much longer we’ll be wearing face masks. But the germ theory won’t fade from memory anytime soon. Customers want to know both they and their pets will be safe when they shop with you. Continue to post policies, both online and in-store, and talk about the basis of these policies. Don’t shy away from showing your commitment to cleanliness. Keep the hand sanitizer out and ready for customers, keep sanitizing surfaces frequently, and upgrade to touch-free check-out options. All of these can go a long way in assuring customers that heath and safety are your priority.
What’s the future of shopping?
Speaking of cleanliness, some changes to the shopping experience may have to become permanent. The treat bar might become a relic since buffet style is not exactly synonymous with no-contact. But what about other in-store services, like pet wash stations and in-store vet care? Will in-store events that bring together communities of pet parents and their animals ever happen again? The key here is balancing customer and pet safety with convenience. For example, you may need to suspend walk-in services to minimize contact and allow ample time for cleaning and sanitizing between visits. But you could offer an online booking tool that lets customers see what’s available and save a place a line, instantly. As for events, even when health officials declare the all clear, think about attendance limits for safe social distancing, or hosting outdoor events.
Stay in touch with your customers
As we all figure out what retail in the post-pandemic era looks like, one thing is certain: Things will be in flux for a while. More than ever, cultivating your online presence and practicing good communication with customers will be key. First and foremost, they’ll want to know if the information they’re looking at is “expired” — a remnant from the pre-COVID era. Whether you make changes to your operating hours, or change your services, don’t wait. Update your website, send a newsletter and post on social media.
[Find out more about cultivating your online presence by clicking here.]
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