Amazon Nipping at Its Heels, Petco Becomes a Digital Ninja

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Petco - Heads Tails App

The pet industry is upwards of a $60 billion market just in the U.S., and the competition by brands to woo and win over pets and their humans has never been more fierce.

It’s estimated by the ASPCA that approximately 44% of American households have at least one dog and 35% are cat households, for an estimated 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats in the pet category.

Cue Petco, which is stepping boldly into the fray and evolving the very notion of a pet store. Beyond the requisite kitty litter and dog toys, it’s now offering veterinary services, life stage-focused subscription boxes and e-commerce strategies, appealing to pet owners and creating a buttress against competitors PetSmart and king of kings, Amazon.

This month Petco refreshed five stores and expanded another to provide the proverbial one-stop shopping for ‘pet parents’ to buy food, toys, apparel and access grooming services, dog training and veterinarians. The stores, located in California, Colorado and Texas, exemplify the brand’s new store design going forward.

Petco now offers on-site vaccination and wellness clinics operated by Vetco, and digitally-delivered pet health advice through PetCoach, with professionals on call to answer owners’ queries.

PetCoach also partnered this summer with Mars-owned pet tech brand Whistle to encourage other petrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs were invited to pitch a new service or product for the chance to win a $25,000 “no strings attached” cash prize, and get feedback from industry experts within Mars Petcare and Petco.

The on-site grooming and training, and vaccination and wellness clinics already offered in more than 1,500 Petco stores across the U.S., Puerto Rico and Mexico, are operated by THRIVE, which prides itself on offering affordable vet care, with exams only $10.

“While pet health and wellness are increasingly important to pet parents, navigating veterinary services in particular can be confusing and overwhelming,” said Petco CEO Brad Weston in a press release.

“Understanding what pets need at each stage of life, what constitutes routine care, urgent or specialty care, and when to seek veterinary expertise are common challenges pet parents face. That’s why we believe it’s so important for every pet parent to have a relationship with a veterinarian throughout the life of their pet.”

Petco also owns PupBox, a monthly subscription service that was featured on Shark Tanks, and includes toys, treats and advice to fit a puppy’s stage of development. The boxes are sold online and in stores, starting with a $29 holiday-themed box.

“Our Holiday Box is the perfect gift for that special pup in your life, and we are so excited to be launching this with Petco,” said Ben Zvaifler, CEO of PupBox. “Pets are absolutely part of our families and we want to make sure every fur-baby has a present to open along with the rest of their loved ones this year.”

Three weeks ago, Petco launched a pet selfie app, Heads & Tails, with any selfies with pets that receive 100 likes in a month receiving a free $25 gift card from Petco, with an additional $25 going to the Petco Foundation.

The Petco Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, has invested more than $200 million since launch in 1999, working with thousands of local animal welfare groups nationwide and through in-store adoption events has helped place more than 400,000 animals every year.

“If you think about where the world is, almost every business that sells a product or service is trying to figure out how to be Amazon-proof,” said Brock Weatherup, Petco’s EVP strategic innovation and digital experience, to Digiday. “Products can be bought anywhere at any time. The question for us, and what our focus has been through our acquisitions is, how do we get people to participate with the Petco brand 24/7, all days of the year, and not just because they ran out of food?”

Taking on its biggest rival, Petco opened its own marketplace on Amazon for pet food and toys. Petco is now a sophisticated digital and mortar and brick player with a broad range of services and expertise on offer including troves of personalized data about a pet’s last vet visit, pet parents past purchases and health-maintaining grooming appointments.

As Weatherup told Digiday, “All that data allows us to then turn around and create an incredible personalized relationship that is really about my ownership of a 5-year-old retriever called Boulder.” And your relationship with your animal spirit.

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