Covid-19 put us through a lot. Health impacts aside, it revealed some of humanity's best and worst sides. While opera stars sang tear-spilling arias from their balconies and medicos battled 18-hour shifts, we gasped in disbelief at toilet paper feuds, torrid anti-mask tantrums and the sheer number of armchair epidemiologists opining online.
And after too many long, lonely days, we realised how much companionship truly, deeply matters – which, for many, was discovered in a dog.
“Now that retailers are doing everything they can to lure customers back in-store, it begs the question: should your retail store become pet friendly?”
At least 3.2 million households in the UK adopted a pet during Covid, according to BBC News. Here in Australia, approximately 1 million dogs were adopted or bought during this time, according to a survey by Animal Medicines Australia. And although a small percentage have been rehomed, Aussies now own more dogs than ever.
So, now that retailers are doing everything they can to lure customers back in-store, it begs the question: should your retail store become pet friendly?
According to Dr Garnet Hall, Fremantle-based veterinarian and founder of “Pet-Friendly Freo”, there are plenty of benefits of inviting dogs in-store, although it does require discretion.
Here are some of the pros and cons we discussed below.
No more guilt = more time shopping + fewer returns: It’s almost impossible for a new pet owner to head to the shops guilt free, knowing their puppy is howling his tiny lungs out at home. If puppy can come to the shops, too, your customer will likely spend more time in your store. It’s a better experience for the owner and dog.
More profits: Now that your dog-loving customer can relax and spend more time in-store, they are likely to buy more. And isn’t that what we retailers all want?
Social media buzz: Having pets around can often drive a social media buzz, giving businesses added promotional benefits. Dr Hall suggests retailers feature a ‘pet of the week’ or encourage customers to post their in-store experience online.
Additional sales from pet-related products: Pet owners are more likely to spend money on their pets than themselves. Retailers can capitalise on this by stocking some suitable pet-friendly products that fit with the theme of your business.
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- Hygiene: Dogs yet to be toilet trained can cause serious and unpleasant hygiene problems (negatively impacting both dogs and humans) and hours of thankless cleaning.
- Allergies: Plenty of humans have allergies to dog and cat fur, so depending on your retail customers, allowing animals in-store may not be reasonable.
- Phobias: Would it be fair to tell dog-phobic customers to simply deal with it? Similarly, dogs represent danger and inspire fear for individuals from some cultures, so again, consider your customers and how they may react.
- Bad behaviour and fights: We’ve all seen poorly trained dogs in action. Antisocial activity or dogfights will undoubtedly defeat the purpose of welcoming more customers into your relaxed, community-loving store.
Indeed, there are some negatives when it comes to inviting dogs in-store. But what if the positives outweigh them?
Kokho Jason Sit, senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, mirrored Dr Hall’s opinions here in Australia. Although noting that there are legitimate concerns, he feels they are outweighed by the “potential emotional, experiential and commercial benefits of allowing people to shop with their pooches”.
How to make your retail store pet friendly
Ensure your staff are familiar with dogs & dog ownership
Make sure that the majority of your staff have trained or been dog owners. Dogs may be cute and fluffy, but left in the wrong hands, they can quickly turn into furniture wrecking, toddler-biting, peeing little monsters.
Ensure dog safety & wellbeing
- Like toddlers, dogs want to chew anything in their proximity. Ensure there are no exposed wires, electrical cords or sharp objects nearby.
- Remove any plants or flowers that may be toxic for dogs. If you’re unsure which plants are unsafe, here’s a handy list of plants that are toxic to dogs.
- Ensure that fresh drinking water is available for the dogs and change it regularly to minimise the risk of dogs exchanging germs.
- If you feel that inviting dogs into the mix is too much for your busy store, consider cordoning off a small, dogs-only area. For example, you might have an enclosed outdoor patio area where the dogs could play while the customers shop.
Be clear to owners about essential ‘petiquette’
Dog owners must understand that ‘petiquette’ is essential, so display the rules at the entrance of your business and online. For example:
- Only trained dogs should be allowed in public places. If the owner can’t control the dog, then the dog shouldn’t be permitted in-store.
- Ensure all dogs have been flea-treated, wormed and vaccinated.
- Dogs must be clean. No one wants a smelly, muddy dog rubbing against others or jumping on furniture.
- Take the dog to the toilet before entering your premises.
- Dogs must be kept on a lead at all times in the store.
Offer dog owners the following conveniences
Offer doggy treats
Treats can be a great way of controlling a dog in public. However, offer the treats to the owner, not the dog, as you don’t know other dogs’ dietary requirements.
Provide contactless payment
Your dog-owning customer will appreciate quick and easy contactless payment at the POS, particularly if they have a parcel in one hand and a dog in the other.
Implement endless aisles
Endless aisles improve the shopping experience of dog owners who may still feel time conscious when accompanied by their pup. Endless aisles allow the customer to see your entire product range, whether or not they are available at one particular store. This way, you can offer them a seat and a tablet device, so they can explore your products without any fuss.
Offer Click & Collect
Similarly, Click & Collect allows a pet owner to explore your products at home, online. Once they’ve made their purchase, they can bring their pooch along while promptly picking up their purchases in-store.
Power to the pooches! Dog-friendly retail stores
Since Covid 19, the push to allow dogs on planes, public transport, pubs, cafés and shops has grown stronger. However, those keen on this change must realise it requires ‘responsible dog ownership’.
Lists of dog-friendly cafés, restaurants and bars abound, but below are a few lists of dog-friendly stores around the country.
- Chapel Street Precinct: Pet-friendly businesses (a comprehensive list of pet-friendly businesses)
- Chapel Street: Paw on the Door
- Fremantle, WA: Pet-Friendly Freo
- Bunnings Warehouse
Allowing dogs in-store could be an excellent idea for some businesses, but for others it may not be appropriate. Either way, if you’re keen to grow your business, get in touch with Retail Express. Our POS software will integrate your bricks & clicks so you can cut overheads, save time and offer flawless customer experiences. Get a free demo to find out more.