Millennials own more than one-third of pets (35%) in the U.S., more than any other generation, and they are leading the “humanization of pets” trend, according to the American Pet Products Association.
In a recent survey, e-retailer zulily found that Millennial pet owners view their pets more like their children than previous generations, and almost all of them (92%) purchase gifts such as toys, clothing and treats for pets. More than half of Millennial men (55%) purchase gifts for their pets once a month or more, as do 47% of women. Millennials who buy their pets gifts on a monthly basis do so four times a month on average.
For the past year, zulily has been refining its strategy to become the go-to destination for Millennials (and other consumers) who want to pamper their pets. While zulily carries a wide variety of leashes and dog beds, chew toys and cat scratching posts, its evolving approach is to capture the imagination of pet-loving customers by presenting them with such novelties as urban chicken coops, yoga mats for cats, sweaters for iguanas and hoodies (for humans) with built-in pouches for carrying pets.
“We wanted to curate this category in a way that will really get our pet lovers excited about new things and products they haven’t seen in the marketplace before,” explained Kerry Gibson-Morris, Vice President of Merchandising at zulily in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We actually start with the impulse, unique, exciting product — that’s the hero of the event — and then, of course, we have the basics as well.”
The new approach is paying off, with zulily seeing 33% year-over-year sales growth in the category.
Attention-Grabbing Products Lead To More Practical Purchases
In the zulily retailing format, more than 9,000 unique SKUs per day are served up to registered users in 72-hour events. After starting as a children’s apparel retailer in 2010, zulily broadened its assortment over time to fulfill more of the desires of its core audience of moms. When pet products were first added to the zulily site approximately three years ago, the focus was on functional products. But starting in 2017, zulily shifted to leading with the most attention-grabbing pet products rather than the most practical ones.
With this new strategy, zulily is now offering three to four pet-related sales per week, which added up to almost 200 pet-centric events in 2017. The e-Tailer also boosted its number of pet vendors by 13% to increase its mix of boutique and specialty items.
“Now that we have this tremendous momentum, we will continue to layer on unique and exciting new vendor partners,” Gibson-Morris said. “This category is a priority for my merchandising and sourcing team.”
Pet apparel has been one of the top growth categories for zulily, with sales of dresses, T-shirts, sweaters and other wearables up more than 200% in the last year. Sales of the pet-carrying hoodie jumped 622%.
Zulily also broadened its merchandise mix to embrace many creatures beyond the common dog and cat, including lizards, small rodents and chickens. “I picked up on the urban farming trend about two years ago while attending an outdoor garden show,” Gibson-Morris recalled. “Lots of cities were actually passing ordinances to allow chickens in residential neighborhoods for the first time.”
Since then, zulily has had very high consumer engagement whenever it offers products for pet chickens, including urban chicken coops, chicken harnesses and leashes, and chicken swings. When a chicken swing, modeled with a real chicken, was featured on a zulily Facebook live video, it received 14,000 views. “The power of organic word-of-mouth is the most important piece of what we strive for every day,” commented Gibson-Morris.
Gifts For Fido, Spot and Mr. Whiskers
The new merchandising strategy aligns with research zulily has conducted. Some of the key findings include:
- More than three-quarters of Millennial pet owners (77%) prefer to buy certain items online, especially toys (40%), accessories (32%) and pet food (31%).
- An even larger portion of Millennials (86%) prefers to buy some items at smaller, locally-owned pet shops. These include treats (59%), toys (58%), pet food (55%), accessories (39%) and grooming items (34%).
- Millennial pet owners don’t tend to rely on in-store personnel when buying pet products: 63% believe they know more about cats and/or dogs than pet store employees do.
- 83% of Millennial pet owners have purchased dog- or cat-themed merchandise. The most popular pet-themed products are calendars (43%), clothing (42%) cups or travel mugs (37%), door signs or welcome mats (33%) and wall art (32%).