A deeper level of engagement can re-establish grocers as “go-to” places for all things pet.
While pets may be loyal creatures, pet owners don’t necessarily exhibit such behavior. The pet category is one of the most fragmented in retail, with a wealth of places to buy pet food and supplies, including independent pet stores and pet category killers, plus pet food and supplies available in just about every type of retail channel, from food and mass to drug and convenience store. Those that do well with pet owners are the ones that gain trust with pet owners by deeply engaging them, particularly online.
There are more than 100 million monthly web searches using pet-related terms, and this number is steadily growing, with pet shops, supplies and specific brands accounting for 60 percent of those searches (Table 1). However, the grocery industry, in large part, has been disassociated from this online dialogue, because it’s not in this social media space in a meaningful way, according to the findings of San Antonio, Texas-based Black Pearl Intelligence, a research firm that studies consumers’ digital and social media behavior.
Black Pearl studied the social media landscape of pet care — pet products and supplies — as it relates to the grocery category. Using proprietary methodology, the analysis tapped online consumer insights to develop a strategic plan for reinvigorating the grocery category as a channel choice for pet care purchases.
In addition to the lack of engagement with pet owners, online engagement with pet owners is shifting to pet food manufacturers themselves as they form direct dialogues with consumers via social media outreach. This includes some new entrants like Rachael Ray’s pet food line, the social media efforts of which can tap into its celebrity star power.
When grocers do participate in social media around the pet category, Black Pearl found that they’re basically throwing coupons at consumers — coupons that, in many cases, don’t even meet the competitive price points being offered by online retailers, which are also offering free shipping in many cases. What’s lacking is meaningful dialogue on issues that matter most to pet owners. The result is that neighborhood grocers are no longer the trusted resource for the highly fragmented pet category, as both brick-and-mortar and online retailers in other channels eat into their market share.
“Instead of just pushing coupons, create conversations and then complement pet care interaction with value coupons that are relevant to the topic of discussion,” says Bradley Stone Nix, Black Pearl Intelligence chief strategy officer and co-founder. “Social media is about interaction, so you want to interact with consumers.”
Based on its research (Table 2), Black Pearl developed several recommendations for grocers looking to more strongly engage pet owners via social platforms.
First, grocers should leverage their existing credibility as food and nutrition experts, and extend this credibility to pet segments. On social platforms, this means going beyond simple coupons and promotions to providing advice and recommendations on pet products, health and wellness. In addition, they should actively solicit questions from their audiences, and provide well-researched answers.
At the store level, grocers should reinforce this “trusted adviser” role with in-store and event promotions that position the retailer as a reliable source for all matters relating to pet nutrition and well-being. Parking lot events involving veterinarians and free pet checkups, for example, help position a grocer as the go-to place for pet wellness.
Grocers should leverage strong category social activity to connect with consumers online, notably about pet health, well-being and nutrition. They should host social media activities such as pet photo contests that drive engagement. In addition, grocers can fuse online and offline marketing programs in concert with manufacturers to meet customers’ needs. For example, a grocer could hold a pet photo contest on social media platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram, as mentioned previously, and then drive shoppers in-store to vote on finalists, and top it off with the winning photo posted on the grocer’s main website.
By leveraging their existing consumer trust around food, and extending this trust to the pet category via in-store and social media tie-ins, grocers can take back some of the market share lost over the years to pet specialty shops and online retailers.
“Grocers should take advantage of their built-in credibility as trusted purveyors of food,” says Nix. “Their heritage is being the local corner grocery store. They should use that inherent advantage to strengthen their relationship with customers as it extends to pet food and pet care. The online pet retailers and big-box pet discount stores lack credibility on these important matters.”