FirstVet earlier this month announced it would be bringing its successful e-commerce business, already active in Sweden – where the brand originates – to the UK this month, aiming to offer “pet owners across the country a range of fantastic products at the click of a button”. The platform is a digital service which focuses on vet-approved products which customers can have delivered to their doorstop, featuring hundreds of weekly product recommendations from vets.
CEO and co-founder David Prien says that the inspiration behind the new platform was to “plug a gap in the market that already should have been there”, and it comes alongside a wave of the changing landscape of the pet industry which has seen a boom in first time pet owners emerge over the past two years. Pet Gazette spoke to Prien about the platform, it’s expansion into the UK, why he believes the company has found its niche, and it’s commitment to remaining a vet-led platform.
Closing the loop
The expansion of FirstVet to an e-commerce site was a natural one according to Prien, who calls it an “addition to the brand” rather than a deviation. After years of building across the Nordic countries as an online veterinary service, the integration of a product delivery service became obvious.
“Closing the loop of that customer journey was something actively being asked for, both from a vet and a customer perspective, because it simply didn’t make much sense for us not being able to provide the actual products that we were already recommending. And that led us into exploring the prospect of launching e-commerce support first, but always coming from the perspective of strengthening the already existing service, rather than creating something separate” Prien says.
For Prien, the lack of similar delivery systems available for pet-owners was strange, who sees it as an industry where the benefits are clear. Similarly, closing the loop between customer’s pet-care and products they are buying for their pets is a goal FirstVet is trying to achieve, one which he views as a natural progression in the industry.
Prien outlines this, and adds: “To go to a store every four weeks buying the same bag of food which is 20 pounds, transporting that to your home, that doesn’t make much sense to me. On a practical level, it’s just heavy. If anything, that should be the ultimate product that you want to be delivered. Along with other similar products, they are very suited to be sold through this format that we’re now combining with e-commerce and actual professional and personal advice.”
Through this, he believes that customers and pet-owners will be more able to differentiate between products that are actually necessary for their pets, and ones which are “interest driven”, or come with heavy advertising. “It is very important to judge that. What is absolutely necessary and what isn’t? We’re trying to bridge that by adding a professional advice angle to the market”, Prien says.
He continues: “People are way more selective nowadays regarding what they get for their pets when compared with just 10 years ago.. And from that perspective, it makes sense to actually have competent staff being able to directly help you and ensure you’re getting the best for your pet’s needs”.
While not an initial part of the thought process behind the launch of the new e-commerce platform, a new market has grown in the pet industry in the last two years: first-time pet owners. This, Prien says, “poses different challenges than what we were used to working with”. He also notes it is not specifically the demographic itself that is challenging, but that the “demographic has grown to become so big and takes up such a higher percentage of pet owners now”.
As such, FirstVet’s approach which blends professional advice with its e-commerce trading is “perfectly situated” to take advantage of this new market. Alongside its vet-approved product range, it also has a consultancy option, where customers can get one-to-one feedback about their products choices and recommendations.
“The starting point was always the vet service delivery and the advice that we gave complimented by the fact that we were able to deliver the goods being recommended as part of the veterinary advice itself. So we added a separate direct service, but without the consultation being mandated, more as a choice,” Prien adds.
One unique aspect of FirstVet, and one Prien is determined to continue as the forefront, is its vet-led approach. Starting as an online vet-service, Prien is mindful to keep its e-commerce business as a “complimentary facet” of the company, without its product sales compromising its first aim of being a source of information and guidance for pet owners.
“We want to create a very independent source of knowledge and a natural touch point for pet owners, but looking at ways that physical practices are benefiting this platform. But they’re very much interconnected. We want to create one unified customer experience here. We want our service to be delivered irrespective of what the underlying trends of the day are,” he says.
He also attests this to the company’s route to growth, which came about naturally while plugging a gap in the market Prien believed should have already been there, rather than from the point of holding something to sell.
“The macro environment in the last couple of years, and increased switch to digital, really allowed us to step forward in relation to what we want to be able to do, and it became even more apparent to us that it was needed.”
“And we can see different types of services growing in relation to this. We’re just one of the examples. But it’s still very early, and everyone’s kind of finding their way through it. I feel like we’ve been very successful in finding our niche in the market, and expanding.”