Tips for pet food e-commerce on Target, Amazon, Walmart

E-commerce retailing is just as complex as selling a product on conventional store shelves, while opening up the potential to reach a growing number of pet owners who shop online predominantly.

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(LiaKoltyrina, BigStock.com)
(LiaKoltyrina, BigStock.com)

Pet food e-commerce grew dramatically in volume and value during the pandemic. As online retail outlets become as important as brick-and-mortar locations, dog, cat and other pet food brands need to optimize their presence on those e-commerce retail websites, Megan Lippert, COO of consumer packaged goods consultancy OneSpace, said.

“As you think about all the time and energy that you put into your in-store merchandising, you really should think about putting that same time and energy into the way that you merchandise on top online,” Lippert said.

To capitalize on that e-commerce growth, pet food companies need to optimize their online presence, especially on retailers’ websites. Those product detail pages influence how a pet food company appears not only to consumers, but also to search engines. The primary goal of a listing on Amazon, Chewy or a brand’s direct-to-consumer retail webpage is to drive consumers to add a product to their cart and buy it. However, the terms, descriptions and images used on those pages also affect how those products register on search engines, and if a pet food company doesn’t appear on the first page or two of a web search, the brand may as well not be on the market, she said.

Pet food product detail pages include an item’s title, price, availability, bullets, description, ingredients, technical specifications (weight, packaging), pack shots and gallery images, enhanced content, product codes, ratings, reviews and user Q&As. However, every online retailer, from Walmart.com to PetSmart.com to Instacart, has different specifications for those data. Some allow longer descriptions or more photos for example.

Differences among pet food e-commerce retailers

While each retailer’s product detail page provides different marketing opportunities, the most important aspect on all of them may be the image carousel, Lippert said. Every image should convey information to consumers, especially the first image, called a hero image.

“Your titles and heroes are really your first impression for consumers as they're going on this path to purchase for their pet,” she said.

That first impression needs to translate from one device to another. Images need to convey information legibly and succinctly, since pet owners may be accessing the retail site via a smart phone.

“If you did start your career in brick-and-mortar merchandising, you have probably gone on more store visits than you care to remember,” she said. “In e-commerce, pet food professionals should do shelf walks of their brands’ digital shelf, you want to understand how your products are being merchandised, not only on desktop for each of the retailer sites, but also through their mobile apps.”

For every e-commerce retailer where a product appears, pet food companies benefit from optimizing their content to that retailers’ specific site and app. For example, while Amazon, Chewy, Walmart and Target all allow enhanced content, only Amazon’s enhanced content shows up on mobile. Meanwhile, bullets and descriptions are demoted on the mobile page for Amazon in favor of that enhanced content. On Target, images with text are not allowed, but pet food brands can get around this by creating a video slideshow with textual images and posting that to Target.com. Walmart permits longer descriptions than others, which creates an opportunity for including numerous keywords in descriptions.

These differences make e-commerce retailing just as complex as selling a product on conventional store shelves, while opening up the potential to reach a growing number of pet owners who shop online predominantly.

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