The Allure of Online Pet Stores

Some Tips for Pet Retailers

Dog looking at laptop
Online pet stores have many advantages, for both consumers and retailers. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/ULTRA.F

Thanks to the proliferation of the Internet, online stores in general and online pet stores, in particular, are booming.

Here’s why, and some info for pet retailers who are considering taking the online pet stores plunge.

The Boom in Online Pet Stores

There are now many popular online pet stores such as:

Moreover, big box stores that maintain prominent brick and mortar operations, such as Petco and PetSmart, also have a very strong online retail presence.

Plus, general merchandise outlets like Amazon.com now offer a hefty selection of pet products.

While good old brick and mortar pet stores aren't going anywhere anytime soon, there are some obvious advantages to eCommerce operations.

I spoke with Gordon Magee, Internet Marketing and Media Manager for Drs. Foster & Smith and Shannon Stamper, Product Specialist and Customer Service Manager for PSCPets.com to get the lowdown on this.

First, here’s some background on these companies.

The Gold Standard in Online Pets Stores

Drs. Foster & Smith got its start as a newsletter in 1983, under very unfortunate circumstances. Rhinelander, Wis., veterinarians Rory Foster and Marty Smith were partners in regional animal hospitals when Foster – who passed away in 1987 – was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

“He began writing a newsletter to keep his hand in things,” Magee said. “It had quite a few subscribers.

Product was eventually added.”

Later, Rory’s brother, Dr. Race Foster, joined the team and they branched out into producing a pet products catalog that also contained educational articles. “They went to catalog conferences and were told they were including too many articles in the catalogs,” Magee said.

“But they ignored that because they wanted to educate people. They created a niche.”

The company decided to launch an online pharmacy (which is now accredited by the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites and PCAB Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board) and store in 1993 when eCommerce was in its infancy. Drs. Foster & Smith is now the largest company of its kind in the U.S., and one of the biggest in the world, offering approximately 16,000 products and three core websites. In addition to Drs. Foster & Smith, there’s PetEducation.com and LiveAquaria.com, the premiere marine aquarium site in the country.

A New Kid on the Online Pet Stores Block

PSCPets.com is a division of Vets Plus, Inc., a leading researcher and manufacturer of nutrition products, with nearly 20 years in the business. Its parent company is ProbioticSmart.com, a family of websites that specializes in health and nutrition products for both pets and people.

“We started the eCommerce division in 2009,” Stamper said. “We launched the pet site first.”

In addition to carrying their own, mostly probiotic-based health products for pets (mainly dogs, cats, small animals, horses and birds), the company also sells third company brands, most of which can be found in brick and mortar stores.

These include such brands as Spring Naturals pet foods and Furminator pet grooming tools.

Thanks to its clear product and merchandising focus and business model, the company has grown steadily since its launch.

“The year 2009 was slow because we focused on the infrastructure for the site, the platform and functionality,” Stamper said. “We did just a little over $20,000 that year. In 2011, it was up to $2.2 million.”

Why Online Pet Stores Are So Popular

Both Stamper and Magee agreed that convenience is the biggest draw. Unlike traditional brick and mortar stores that are only open during certain hours, the Internet allows people to shop 24 hours a day from the comfort of their homes. They can also better research products.

“People can comparison shop,” Magee said. “Years ago, you had to drive somewhere to do this.

Now, you can do this with the click of a mouse. And you can do it on your own time, not just when the store is open.”

“Some people don’t necessarily want human interaction,” Stamper added. “Going to a brick and mortar store can be invasive for some people. People also like the fact that the products are delivered right to their door.”

What Makes These Online Pet Stores Successful?

These folks agreed that quality is the key ingredient, in terms of both product and customer service.

“Drs. Foster & Smith has had a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee from the beginning, which is our hallmark,” Magee said.

“We have in-house customer service; we do not outsource this to a big call house,” Stamper revealed. “We also do our own warehousing, so the turnaround to get our orders to customers is fast.”

Another important aspect to both of these online stores is that they have easy-to-use platforms.

About Online Pet Stores Marketing

Stamper said her company relies on traditional, commons sense marketing (with some modern, high-tech twists) via:

“We also partner with pet rescue agencies to host adoption events,” she said.

Other Advantages to Online Pet Stores

Aside from the obvious advantages to customers, who can shop at 2 a.m. in their jammies, there are a host of benefits for the retailer:

  • Unlike brick and mortar operations, this doesn’t require having a physical store
  • You don’t need a lot of employees to do this, at least not to start
  • You can reach customers all over the country or even the world

Plus, you have the opportunity to provide tons of information on your retail platform to engage the customers via such tools as setting up a blog on your company website, enabling customers to sign up for your newsletter from the site, the offering of online coupons and other convenient amenities.

So as you can see, online pet stores are most effective ways to reach consumers. For more information, please see my article about the specific technical and other tools you will need, "Online Pet Shop Tips and Tools."