However, before that stops you from starting, it’s noteworthy that more than 70% of U.S households own at least one pet, according to a 2021 APPA National Pet Owners survey. This amounts to more than 90 million households with pets – and potential customer base. From $90.5 billion in 2018 to $97.1 billion in 2019 and $103.6 billion in 2020, pet spending has continued to increase over the past few years. The pet business can be quite profitable, and this may be the best time to sell pet products online.
Here are a few things you need to consider as you build your business plan and kick-start your online pet store.
When starting up, you need to decide the range and source of products you want to sell. Are you planning to create your own products, resell other manufacturers’ products and/or sell private label pet products under your own brand? Or some combination of the three? You need to think carefully about what approach makes the most sense for you. Regardless of the source of your inventory, you’ll want to do your research to consider what to include.
People in the US are expected to spend over $100 billion on their pets in 2022. They tend to spend the most on pet food, followed by vet care and other product sales. Common pet products found in many online stores are pet food, clothes, treats, toys, beddings, litter boxes, brushes, shampoo, and other grooming products. What do you want to include? If you are planning to sell your own products or focus on a particular segment (for example, cats only), you’ll need to do additional research to identify the market potential and/or specific business requirements. Run the numbers with your financial advisors.
Identifying good sources for your inventory is important for your pet store. You have to do enough research to ensure desired quality and that you’re getting your products at a good price. What’s the potential margin? You should also ensure that your suppliers can deliver the required products in good time. You can try to go it on your own and approach individual manufacturers for products, but it can be difficult when you are just starting up and your order volume may be low. What may be easier is working with a manufacturer’s rep – a company that works with a variety of manufacturers as a “one-stop” wholesale shop for businesses to buy their supplies. This can be especially helpful if you want to carry products from smaller, niche producers.
One of the things you and your suppliers need to work out is how the products get to your buyers. Is the supplier shipping to you and have you store, manage and individually ship the products? Or, will they be drop-shipping the products for you? Drop-shipping pet products may be an easier alternative and lower the cost of operating your business, but it does limit your options for how you manage your customer’s experience. Things like branded packaging, in-box communications and/or gift wrapping may be limited or not possible. You’ll also want to work out how returns or exchanges will work. Have these conversations with your potential suppliers before you make a commitment.
Branding is important. The combination of a good name, visual elements, brand personality and voice help convey who you are to your potential customers. Before that, you’ll need to make sure the name you want is unique and appealing and that you can find an easy-to-use domain URL for it. But more importantly, you need a name that is legally available to be copyrighted and trademarked for your business use. Applying for a trademark appears to be a straightforward process, but there are complexities and nuances that a trademark attorney can help you navigate.
Your name goes a long way in setting the tone for your ecommerce venture. Make sure it is specific, meaningful, and memorable. All these qualities can help as you market your business.
You’ve got the name, the domain, the products lined up – now it is all about creating that online customer experience that brings them back time-after-time. To create the infrastructure, you don’t need to write custom code to create your online store. That approach is cost-intensive, subject to issues and requires someone with a lot of technical skills to maintain. More importantly, you’d probably need to handle the PCI compliance that is a lot of risk for a small (or even large) business to take on.
Thankfully, there are ready-made solutions that can cut your potential costs and risk drastically, plus you can be up and running in a relatively short amount of time. You’ll still want some technical support, but a lot less than if you try to custom code your entire new ecommerce site. Shopify and WooCommerce are two ecommerce platforms that are widely available and can help you get your pet store online.
Woocommerce is a plugin that allows you to turn WordPress sites into ecommerce stores. While Woocommerce — and WordPress — still take a bit of technical know-how, it is still much less so than custom written code. Shopify allows you to create an online store easily, providing design templates, shipping solutions, payment gateways solutions, fraud analysis, and product management all in one go. In either case, you can be ready to go relatively quickly.
Safe, secure payment processing is essential. Leverage the payment gateway/partner products provided by your ecommerce platform that can help mitigate risk for both your customers and your business, too.
You’ll also need to have a company that hosts your website/online pet store. Cost is more than the monthly fee. You’ll want to check out the hosting company’s customer service approach, what happens if there is a site hack or attack (for example DDoS), etc. You want them to take care of these things.
Creating an online store on Amazon is another option you can try if you prefer to have someone else handle some of these details. Amazon provides information and guidance here. It may or may not be a good fit for you, but it is an option.
Regardless of where you host your site, it’s imperative to give your prospective customers an experience that encourages them to do business with you. The best way to do this is to present them with a page that casts a lasting impression. Nothing beats a well-designed, easy to navigate site with good product pictures and descriptions. Pay attention to your UI/UX and design details. Ensure your online pet store is as easy to use as possible for the average user. You can do this through good product categorization, filters and search structures. Enable your users to easily find the products they are especially interested in purchasing. In other words, make it easy to buy from you.
If you know your target market – the specific pet owners/shoppers you are trying to reach – help them find you. Put together a marketing plan to leverage the various ways to connect with potential customers: email marketing, social media, content marketing, search advertising and more. Some of this can be done with just your time and some good tools to help you distribute the information, such as Buffer for social media and Mailchimp for email marketing/marketing automation. Have a plan – and work that plan to get the word out.
The tools are out there to build your online pet store. But the most important part is having a plan for the business. Work with your trusted advisors to fill-in the gaps in your knowledge and test your ideas. Your pet store is an ecommerce success story just waiting to be written.