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In addition to dry and canned food, a leash, and some toys, pet owners can now meet more of their furry friends’ needs by visiting Walmart. The retailer has partnered with a pet insurance provider, as well as a pet sitting service platform, to give people access to a vast range of services related to their adored pets.

This service expansion reflects the combined impetus of several trends. In particular, pet ownership continues to increase, such that an estimated 90 million consumers live with dogs, cats, or other domesticated animals. They also are willing to spend pretty generously to keep them fed, healthy, entertained, and safe. One recent estimate indicates that U.S. consumers spent $99 billion on their pets in 2020 alone. This target market already was large and growing; the coronavirus bumped adoption rates even higher among people who found that their COVID-19 lives meant they were home more and better able to take care of an animal or two.

Retailers also are actively seeking new ways to differentiate themselves and become truly one-stop shops. Walmart already has added services, including health care and pharmacy options, for its human consumers. But ongoing competition from category specialists such as PetSmart or Petco (which earned an estimated $4 billion in sales in 2020) has remained a relevant threat that the retailer needs to address. If Walmart can get pet parents to regard Walmart stores as the primary place they can attain all the goods and services they need for their pets, it can keep them from even considering those competitive retail options.

The service offerings also are somewhat novel, in that they give shoppers access to insurance, provided in a collaboration with Petplan. Such services match up well with Walmart’s existing pet pharmacy services, which allow shoppers to get flea medication, cat-appropriate doses of painkillers, or insulin for their diabetic dogs at the stores’ pharmacy counters. In addition, its cooperation with the Rover service platform facilitates access to pet sitting and walking services. To encourage cross-platform integration, Walmart promises that if customers book at least six dog walking appointments with local service providers on the Rover platform, they will receive a $20 gift card to spend with the retailer.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How might category specialists like Petco or PetSmart respond to this service expansion and competitive move by Walmart?
  2. What other service expansions might Walmart consider, to complement its pet-oriented offerings?

Source: George Anderson, “Walmart Goes to the Dogs (and Cats Too),” Retail Wire, November 19, 2020; Emily DeCiccio, “The Pet Business Is Booming as Americans Spend More on Their Animals While They Work from Home,” CNBC, December 5, 2020