Who’s Afraid of Big, Bad Amazon?

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Amazon pets

Amazon. 

The online retail giant offers almost any product a consumer could want, delivered quickly, with free shipping, all with the ease of shopping from home. Amazon Prime members can place recurring subscription orders to take the hassle out of reordering household essentials. 

Ten years ago, I shopped at Target for household needs; I made three to four trips to the store per month. I couldn’t have fathomed ordering toilet paper, dog food, or brown sugar online. Now, I hardly consider making a trip to an actual store to make a purchase. Times have changed. 

If your practice offers retail products, you already know the competition you face from local pet stores and box stores, plus online pet retailers like Chewy.com. It was only a matter of time until Amazon ventured into the pet market, launching a proprietary dog food line — Wag — in 2018. 

Jia Wertz writes in Forbes that while online sales comprise just over 8 percent of total retail sales in North America, that percentage will undoubtedly grow in the future. One of the best ways to battle the growth of online sales is to join the e-commerce movement. Wertz also mentions that only 28 percent of small businesses utilize internet sales. 

There are all sorts of reasons to consider (or not) add-on services to your practice, as discussed in another DVM Insider article. If you’ve chosen to offer retail products in your clinic, taking steps to make that business arm as profitable as possible is a good idea and worth an analysis of your marketing strategy. Whether you like it or not, your clinic’s retail business faces competition. 

Compete with Amazon? Are You Kidding?

As Katie James reports in DVM360, retail sales of pet supplies were forecasted to be over $8 billion in 2018. James covered Amazon Pets director Zak Watts’s presentation at the September 2018 NAVC E-Commerce Summit. Watts says that Amazon’s focus is to increase loyalty and encourage repeat purchases, offering a 40 percent discount on a buyer’s first Subscribe & Save order. Additionally, Amazon gives Prime members the ability to add pet profiles to their accounts, allowing Amazon to make product recommendations tailored for that pet. 

I created a profile on my Prime account for our family dog and sure enough, Amazon sent me an email within a couple of hours with product suggestions. Earlier this year we switched pet food brands; I’ve used Chewy.com to have Hill’s Science Diet delivered every four weeks right to my front door. 

Why? 

Because it’s easy and it’s automatic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten to buy dog food until we were scraping the bottom of the bin. With an auto-ship, it’s one less thing on my list. Convenience is a priority. 

I’m a millennial. I am comfortable with the ease of automated, online shopping. But let me tell you about a friend of mine. She’s my age and she rarely shops online. Her reasoning? Every brick-and-mortar business, whether locally owned or a big-box store, contributes to the local economy. She happily treks to the mall, Walmart, and other businesses to make purchases. 

I admire my friend’s sentiment and commitment to our local economy. As I considered the concept of Amazon Pets and other online pet retailers, I pondered one question: what would it take for me to purchase pet food locally, possibly from my veterinarian? 

Get Them to Buy from You

I shop online because it’s economical and easy. If I don’t pay shipping fees and the price is comparable to a local store, I’ll buy online because it means I don’t have to take three kids, plus bags of dog food, into and out of a store. 

If your clinic offers retail items such as pet food and treats, do some price checking. Are your products priced comparably to online retailers? Perhaps consider offering a price-match guarantee for your customers. If they purchase food from you, offer to set up a reminder for refills, based on recommended feeding amounts. Think about a frequent-buyer punch card, offering a discount or a flat rate off their next purchase once they spend a certain amount on retail products. Offer curbside pickup if the customer calls in the order or buys online through your website.

Make sure your retail space is inviting, clean, and simple. Educate practice staff on the benefits of the products you sell and make sure your marketing efforts are consistent. Sara Karasinski, a practice manager in Lowell, Michigan, writes in DVM360 that whether your retail space is large or small, it should be neat, well stocked, and relevant to your customer base. She also suggests a small display of products, such as treats or pet odor–eliminating candles, at the reception desk. 

Give your customers an experience they won’t get somewhere else. Offer locally made pet treats, collars, and leashes. Promote the products of other locally owned businesses. Do you offer treats to your patients? Find a local maker and partner with them to offer samples in your clinic as well as products for sale. 

Overall, people want to support a local business, but in the world of online shopping, you have to give them something special. Show customers where their dollars go when they spend money at your clinic: spotlight other local businesses, and let customers know how you support the community through charitable donations or support for local animal programs. 

You Won’t Slay Amazon, But Maybe You Don’t Have To

The internet and all its charms are here to stay. Amazon Pets manager Mike Bassani says that while Amazon aims to be an advocate for and educator of pet owners, it doesn’t want to compete with the veterinary community — it wants to collaborate. 

If retail sales are part of your practice, consider how you can most effectively market your products, building buy-in from staff as well as customers. Up your social media game and train staff and veterinarians to inform clients of product options offered in-house. 

Sure, Amazon is a Goliath. But while you may feel like a David, you don’t have to lose to a bigger player. You just need to sling smarter.

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