Dog Tech Dynamics
High-end products are still niche, but consumers increasingly want products for their dogs that they already have for themselves.
Consumers in general are in love with technology, and dog owners in particular are increasingly projecting their human needs and wants onto their pets. Luckily for pet retailers, new products are available that will help capitalize on consumers’ increasing fascination with everything high-tech.
Anthropomorphizing dogs is only becoming more popular, and retailers said they see customers looking for dog products that mirror technology for humans, especially in the form of pet fitness trackers, GPS products and GoPro-style cameras.
“Consumers are becoming more compelled by Fitbits and other devices to track their own health, and everything is kind of traveling down the leash, so to speak,” said Michael Dan, owner of RedRidge Pet Market in Richmond, Va. “It goes along with the anthropomorphization of the pet. If you’re taking care of yourself, that’s going to extend to your pet as well.”
Several retailers mentioned activity-tracking and GPS location-tracking products as generating the most buzz, though price point is a concern.
“GPS trackers have found a niche in the market,” said Ryan Carter, owner of Carter’s Pet Mart in Stockton, Calif. “No one has made one that’s small enough, that is really comfortable for small dogs. Also, some are a little pricey for what they give [customers].”
However, prices do appear to be coming down, other retailers reported, and interest is growing.
“I’ve been … looking at the new GPS tracking systems for tracking dogs,” said Dave Sturgis, owner of Dog Daze Pet Shop in North Syracuse, N.Y. “What I’ve been noticing is … the price is going down. It makes it more affordable for the regular homeowner to use.”
These new tech products present a challenge for some retailers, though, as competition from the internet makes it hard to adequately meet customers’ needs.
“The thing is, stores don’t want to stock them,” said Burton Patrick, owner of Burton’s Total Pet, with locations in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas. “It’s very difficult to stock them because no matter what, they’re just going to show up immediately on the internet. So the people that could train [customers] how to use [these products] are being taken out of the loop.”
The Talk in New Tech
There are several tech products for dogs available in the market now, such as GPS trackers marketed for use with pets, including Motorola’s Scout line and the Whistle GPS Pet Tracker, among others. These are game changers for some, as they represent a type of product that can make a huge difference in pets’ safety.
“I belong to a rescue, and we had a dog that became lost,” said Dave Sturgis, owner of Dog Daze Pet Shop in North Syracuse, N.Y. “If we would have had that technology when we adopted him out, we would have been able to find the dog. My store will be selling them because it’s a good idea. You can download the app to any Android phone. To me, it makes a lot of sense.”
PetSafe, a brand of Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn., recently released the Smart Dog Trainer.
“It replaces the traditional handheld remote transmitter with the PetSafe Smart Dog app downloaded to a customer’s Android or iPhone,” said Heather Williams, category manager for PetSafe. “Utilizing Bluetooth technology, it allows the pet owner to deliver a tone, vibration or static stimulation to the pet from up to 75 yards away. The user-friendly app interface allows the customer to customize the app for what works best for them and their pet. The Smart Dog Trainer utilizes a PIN security system that allows multiple authorized users, such as family members or dog walkers, to connect to the collar with their phone.”
In line with other popular products for humans, dog fitness trackers are increasingly popular as well. One such offering from PetPace is called the Smart-Sensing Collar. Recently, the company updated the collar’s functionality.
“In the last six months, PetPace has introduced significant advances in its algorithms and analytics to help transform the huge amounts of data that we are generating into meaningful insights about pets’ health and well-being that can be clearly displayed in real time on mobile or web apps,” said Abraham Menkes, CEO of PetPace in Burlington, Mass.
The company’s app streams information from the collar to inform owners of their pets’ health, Menkes added, and its health-monitoring service is designed to analyze data from the collar in real time.
Monitoring products are increasingly popular across the board, with actual camera-based systems also showing up in the marketplace. One such product, Eyenimal’s Petcam, also works with a smartphone app.
“You can actually see from your iPhone or your iPad, and you can scroll around the room and you can see what your pet is up to,” said Mike Lasky, partner at SLA Brands, the North American distributor for Eyenimal, with U.S. headquarters in New York. “It has night vision as well.”
Teach Consumers to Love Technology
Customers often need some handholding when it comes to technology products for dogs.
“A lot of consumers are still getting their information and seeing these products for the first time in stores,” said Michael Dan, owner of RedRidge Pet Market in Richmond, Va. “Having these products in stock and being able to explain [their use] to the consumer, their pros and cons, what they’re going to be able to do, and how it mirrors something they’re already using for themselves, is key.”
For retailers and sales associates, understanding a product’s usage can help drive sales.
“High-tech is a lot like the medicinal [category], where you’re only comfortable recommending something if you understand it,” said Mike Lasky, partner at SLA Brands, the North American distributor for Eyenimal, with U.S. headquarters in New York. “So it’s important to have a good understanding when you’re talking about these types of products. If you understand it, you’re going to recommend it and your customers are going to have a better understanding of what they’re buying.”
This means also clearly explaining costs.
“The biggest piece of advice I could give to retailers is to clearly explain to customers the ‘so what’ aspect of these new products,” said Heather Williams, category manager for PetSafe, a brand of Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn. “There are lots of products, both in pet and within other consumer products categories, that may offer connectivity as a novelty. It is important to clearly articulate the value of new technologies, especially because these features usually come at an added cost.”
Some manufacturers suggest turning customers on to online explanations of products, but retailers reported that they like to keep customers grounded in-store with product tutorials.
“All customer education is handled in-store, on the sales floor, which is how we like it,” said Nikki Malay, manager of Carter’s Pet Mart in Stockton, Calif.
Proactive and Interactive Merchandising
The best ways to display high-tech products is via a dedicated “activity center” within a sales space, retailers reported.
“We keep these [types of items] in our active dog section, which includes outdoor gear,” said Michael Dan, owner of RedRidge Pet Market in Richmond, Va. “They go hand in hand. We have an iPad where we can show how it links for customers, as well.”
For products with an interactive component, having an in-store display available is helpful for driving sales. Some retailers reported success using camera monitoring products with their own dogs, and displaying the results in-store for customers.
“I just click it on my phone and I watch [my dogs],” said Dave Sturgis, owner of Dog Daze Pet Shop in North Syracuse, N.Y. “If you’re away, it still gives you a little connection with your animal. And I think that’s what’s going to sell that product.”
Leveraging the popularity of smartphones is a large driver of sales in this category, retailers reported.
“The biggest thing right now is everybody wants something that hooks to their phone,” Dan said. “Millennials specifically, but even the baby boomers—they’re iPad-friendly—are the two biggest [generations] in terms of purchasing power.”