How is Covid-19 changing the way pet care retailers sell?

The pet industry is facing an unprecedented challenge as retailers look for ways to meet demand for essential items during the lockdown period. With store closures putting further pressure on online operations, how can pet care retailers manage to service customers safely and responsibly?

Optimising stock deployment

The latest official UK government guidance during the coronavirus lockdown period is that ‘online retail is still open and encouraged’. Many pet care retailers will have closed physical outlets to customers, so with shoppers relying heavily on web stores, a good availability rate and depth of stock needs to be offered.

Ideally, all store and wholesale products available for sale should be visible to web customers. Online availability is likely to be negatively affected by high demand fulfilled only by ecommerce stock, so a unified approach to store and warehouse inventory will mean retailers can trade more effectively. A stock unification tool which gives a holistic view of inventory is the easiest way to do this, and can be adjusted according to changing business needs.

No one would dispute this pandemic presents major logistical challenges for everyone involved in the pet care sector, but it is also an opportunity for retailers to better understand their internal landscape, discover how their company operates on a micro level and create a more relevant and refined delivery path that will serve them well beyond this period of disruption.

The journey from manufacturer to customer is often complex, and retailers may not currently control each step. Retailers need to make sure they can manage all the various dynamics to ensure a continued flow of goods. Tracing the supply chain back to identify and alleviate any bottle necks will enable them to respond most effectively to customer demand.

Buy online, collect outside

Just like collecting takeaway food with minimal or no contact in current lockdown conditions, pet care retailers can offer the same collect outside, pick up curbside options. The customer is protected as there is no need for them to enter a store or go directly to a dedicated picking zone – the order has already been paid for online so contact is not required. This approach will help eliminate delivery delays and avoid lost order situations, which can be attributed to increased numbers and faulty logistics. 

Collecting outside is also cost-effective for the customer as shipping fees are avoided. It makes good business sense for retailers to offer this option as more stock held in-store is sold at full price, reducing the need for future markdowns.

Adopting an omnichannel approach

Truffaut, a national garden centre chain in France, is using its largest stores as mini warehouses to complement deliveries from distribution hubs to manage pet food orders. By putting in place a small team of staff dedicated solely to processing online purchases, the company is seeing a significant impact on turnover while also being able to keep a core team of store staff in work.

The key is store stock accuracy – retailers need to make sure they have the right amount of stock available, have processes in place so they can fulfil quickly and be able to track and surface the order availability of the product to manage customer expectations on delivery.

So long as employees are given appropriate Covid-19 protection measures, shipping from store is an effective omnichannel strategy that can be used to take the pressure off warehouse teams and maintain a smooth delivery service for customers.

Showing solidarity with your staff and minimising the risk of exposure to the virus is paramount. Aside from social distancing within the store or distribution centre, best practice includes enforcing hygiene laws, changing shift patterns so employees can avoid using public transport during peak times and staggering break times to eliminate contact. More stringent cleaning measures should also be introduced in warehouses and stores, with regular deep cleaning sessions before and after shifts and especially when changing between different teams.

Connecting with the consumer

The current surge in online orders means some delay to deliveries is to be expected. Being open and transparent with customers when communicating about possible issues is essential. Pet Supermarket does this well. It is upfront about deliveries taking longer than usual in a statement on its homepage, and the positive Trustpilot reviews it continues to receive indicate that this is not impacting customer satisfaction.

Future-proofing operations

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for retailers everywhere to be able to respond to disruption in an agile manner. The reality is that until it is controlled, social distancing measures of some sort will continue to be in place, and it may take several more months for people in meaningful numbers to start returning to stores to shop.

By enabling visibility of their entire inventory to online shoppers, introducing agile omnichannel processes such as ship from store and adjusting delivery methods to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the shopping journey, pet care retailers will be able to continue to operate in a responsible manner for as long as is required.

We live in a fast-changing and unpredictable world where the future of retail is constantly being re-imagined. In this context, pet care retailers that have the most mature and agile omnichannel infrastructure and culture will be in the strongest position to thrive.

By Romulus Grigoras, founder and CEO of OneStock, which aims to help retailers optimise order management and boost sales.

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