We’ve never spent this much time together — like, ever.” Maddy Ling is a 24-year-old New Jersey massage therapist who describes herself as having one great love of her life — her 4-year-old Boston Terrier mix, Lilo. “I mean, I love her so much, but I’m usually just so busy with work, school, my friends, etc. But now it’s just me, her and these four walls until this thing is over.”
This thing is, of course, the global pandemic caused by the spread of COVID-19, a highly contagious virus that causes a respiratory illness characterized by such symptoms as shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, and digestive issues. Although the elderly and the immunocompromised are the hardest hit by the disease, even otherwise young and healthy patients have ended up hospitalized, using ventilators to breathe.
- Amid the health and economic uncertainties of the coronavirus crisis, pet owners have been curtailing their shopping trips and paying closer attention to prices.
- Retailers should create pet care displays in easily accessible areas and spotlight less expensive store-brand and value offerings.
- Grocery delivery and especially curbside pickup are great ways to safely get pet products to consumers.
Ling, like most Americans, has been under some version of a stay-at-home order since mid-March. While some states and counties are reopening slowly, others are moving more quickly. Still, the numbers show that opening back up comes with rising numbers of coronavirus cases. While there are some who say that it’s just impossible to ask an entire country to stay home, given the looming long-term economic and social ramifications, it’s clear that there won’t be an easy or quick solution to the crisis anytime soon.
In May, the American Pet Products Association (APPA), the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA), the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), and the World Pet Association (WPA) surveyed more than 500 of the organizations’ members on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on their businesses. More than 75% of the survey respondents reported that they remained open for business in some capacity, but changed much of their focus to safety. Most cited the use of sanitation and cleaning as a part of this process. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) came in a close second. Using hand sanitizer stations and limiting the number of visitors allowed in the space were also cited. As retailers and consumers alike adjust to the “new normal,” selling pet products has changed in some significant ways.
Stocking for a Pandemic
“The first change retailers are seeing is where the consumer’s priorities lie when purchasing goods right now,” explains Shaun Williams, the owner of Pawfect Pets, a boutique pet brand based in Houston. The company sells handmade pet toys and accessories with an irreverent vibe. Among its best-selling products are stylish printed leash-and-collar combos.
Stand-alone displays and end caps will also come in handy for moving desired pet products with shoppers in a hurry. Since the CDC has recommended shopping infrequently and spending as little time in stores as possible, a display near the entrance or on an easily accessible end cap prevents the shopper from having to go down narrow aisles or into far-flung areas of the store. For example, a retailer could set up an entryway display with cans of cat food to entice consumers to add the product to their carts before they even make it to the pet food aisle.
Safety Means Distance
“I know the word ‘unprecedented’ is being overused, but this is unlike anything we’ve ever been through before,” asserts Brianna Austin, a retail marketing consultant with more than a decade’s experience working with grocery brands such as H-E-B and Randalls. “Everyone’s first concern is safety. For now, that means limited contact, making time to sanitize the store at regular intervals and offering alternative shopping experiences.”