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The online channel accounted for only 1% of US pet food sales in 2013, according to Packaged Facts. That low share even included online sales for “brick and mortar” retail outlets.
On a global level, pet food comprised 3% of all online food and drink sales last year, Euromonitor International reported. And that share was decent compared to the one for pet products overall, which measured only .5% of all products sold online, or US$4.3 billion of a total of US$840 billion.
Yet no one expects those shares to remain that low. In fact, IBISWorld reported in January 2014 that online pet food and pet product revenues in the US had increased 7.8% a year for the previous five years. The Cleveland Research Co.’s 2014 eCommerce Benchmarking Study showed that pet products accounted for 4.1% of online sales last year, with the percentage expected to more than double in three years, to 9.4%, and reach 19.3% at some point. (The latter set of data is courtesy of Dave Bolen, CEO of the Bolen Group, who presented pet retailing insights at Petfood Forum 2015.)
And, even if online purchases currently amount to only a very small percentage of overall US pet food sales, Packaged Facts data indicates that 33.1% of US pet owners buy some sort of pet products online, and that number is growing. According to a survey of pet owners conducted by the research firm in 2014, about 25% say they are buying more pet products online than they used to. That percentage has steadily increased since Packaged Facts first started asking the question, from 14% in 2011 to 18% in 2012 to 22% in 2013 and now 25%.
Further, these US pet owners who buy pet products online are doing so more frequently, with 18.7% saying their most recent purchases were within the previous seven days, 25% within the previous 30 days and nearly 30% within the previous three months. The total of 74% for those three timeframes was up from 65% in 2013.
Specific to pet food, a Packaged Facts pet owner survey conducted earlier this year showed that 12% of dog owners and 12% of cat owners are having pet food regularly delivered to their homes, which means they are likely ordering it online. Not surprisingly, the percentage rises to 19% of dog owners and 14% of cat owners in urban areas. Packaged Facts also says that about one-third of dog owners and cat owners “like the idea of home delivery for pet food,” probably because it’s an “essential product consumed at a steady rate.”
David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, has commented that online shopping portals, such as the behemoth Amazon.com, with its Amazon Prime membership offering free shipping and quick delivery, can mitigate many traditional barriers to online purchasing and home delivery of pet food. “There’s also Amazon’s Subscribe and Save, which allows pet owners to schedule their food delivery ahead of time and save a percentage of the cost, as well as Prime Pantry, where pet owners can pay a flat fee for delivery of one large box of goods,” Sprinkle wrote. “In this context, the weight and bulk of pet food, long the highest hurdle to online sales, is now likely to make home delivery that much more appealing, including for an aging Boomer generation.”
Of course, Amazon.com is not the only source for pet owners seeking to buy pet food or other pet products online; in the US alone, there are plenty of sites such as PetFoodDirect.com, PetFoodExpress.com and Drsfostersmith.com, the latter of which was purchased last fall by Petco, which itself sells many pet foods and products online. (As does its main competitor, PetSmart, plus many other pet retailers that also have brick and mortar stores.) A Packaged Facts report included the information that even Drugstore.com carries over 400 dog food products.
Pet owners outside the US also have many online options, including in rising pet markets like China, with shopping portals such as Goumin.com, Taobao.com and Tmall.com. In Europe, pet owners can turn to sites like TiendAnimal.com.
The bottom line is that, just as with many other products, consumers are increasingly researching and buying pet food online. John Stanley of John Stanley Associates, a pet retailing expert who also spoke at Petfood Forum, said that by 2020, up to 60% of pet product sales may be online, with forecasts ranging from 40% to 65%. “I don’t care what it is, but it will be a major percentage. You have to be preparing for that.”