Think about your online shopping behaviors. What’s the first thing you look at? For many people, a product with less than four stars doesn’t even get consideration and a bad review can be a deal breaker. Likewise, pet food reviews may differentiate products for pet owners and influence purchasing decisions. The percentage of pet foods and treats sold online has been growing for more than a decade. After a dramatic boost during the pandemic, internet-based pet food sales have come to rival sales in brick-and-mortar retail outlets. Packaged Facts estimated that 36% of pet food sales occurred online in 2021.
Considering the importance of online retailer reviews, scientists examined 5,632 reviews of pet food products on Amazon, Chewy, Petco and Walmart to determine which attributes correlated to pet owners’ positive and negative reactions. Their research identified certain qualities mentioned in those reviews that may help those products stand out from their competitors. The journal Agribusiness published the results of the study.
“The results indicated the appearance/form attributes were the most effective point of differentiation among the two products,” Lonnie Hobbs, Ph.D., lead study author and assistant professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, told Petfood Industry. “The results also implicated potential to increase product differentiation strategies of the two products using the packaging, taste and breed specific attributes.”
Hobbs’ team identified categories of attributes mentioned in the reviews that influenced buyers’ post-purchase experiences. These categories were packaging, health/benefit, ingredient, taste, smell, appearance/form, natural/organic, processing, sourcing, small or large breed, price and service. Some of these attributes most influenced customers' positive or negative reactions after buying a pet food.
“The attributes more likely to be associated with positive post-purchase experience included large breed, taste, price and appearance or form,” Hobbs said. “Packaging and smell were the attributes more likely to be associated with negative post-purchase experience.”
While the results of the study provide insights for pet food and treat makers on correlations among product attributes and post-purchasing experience, Hobbs noted that the results don’t indicate causality. One can’t definitively say that the attributes caused positive or negative reactions, only that they were related.
“The underlying assumption is that the higher use of specific attribute-related words in product reviews reflects the importance of that attribute in customer's post-purchase experience (either positive or negative),” he said. “However, the results indicate the attributes more likely to be associated with positive and negative post-purchase experience. They do not provide statistical evidence that the attributes cause/influence the post-purchase experience.”
Pet food brands could analyze their own reviews
In the study, Hobbs’ team estimated the product review rating as a function of the number of times an attribute-related word was used in an online review, while controlling for other variables. The team then used statistical procedures to estimate the parameters associated with specific product attributes and whether the association was positive or negative.
“There are several implications indicated in the paper,” Hobbs said. “To keep it short, the results indicate a potential untapped opportunity to position themselves based on breed specific product attributes. Additionally, there is an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of current differentiation strategies through improved product packaging and associated services (e.g., delivery).”
Although the statistics software and content coding involved in the study may be outside pet food professionals’ usual range of experience, the procedure could be repeated by pet food brand’s own market researchers, Hobbs said.
“The insight generated from these procedures can be very useful in providing implications within and outside the scope of this study,” he said. “More specifically, there is a wealth of useful information about customers' perception and valued product characteristics that can be generated from procedures applied in this study.”