Millennials spend like crazy on their ‘fur-babies’

Discussion
May 25, 2018
Jasmine Glasheen

Sales of pet products are on the rise and Millennials are leading the charge. In fact, Millennials own over one-third of all pets in the United States. Out of the 72 percent of Millennials that own pets, 67 percent consider these pets their “fur-babies” and treat them like their children.

The trend, understandably, has major financial implications for retailers. TD Ameritrade found that Millennial pet owners shell out major cash on their “fur-babies” annually, with dog owners spending $1,285 a year on their pups and cat owners spending an average of $915 on their feline friends.

RetailTouchPoints reports, “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 percent) purchase gifts such as toys, clothing and treats for pets. More than half of Millennial men (55 percent) purchase gifts for their pets once a month or more, as do 47 percent of women. Millennials who buy their pets gifts on a monthly basis do so four times a month on average.”

Pet boutiques are popping up in every neighborhood and spending on pet Halloween costumes hit a new record last year. The National Retail Federation estimated that 16 percent of all Americans dressed their pets for Halloween in 2017 and the growing pet costume industry accounted for $440 million in retail sales last year alone.

It’s not that Millennials necessarily have the extra income to spend on treats and toys for their pets, but they are willing to make sacrifices for the well-being of their “fur-babies.” USA Today reports that, “Millennials expect to spend more money on their dogs over the course of the pet’s lifetime than they do on their own lifetime health care costs.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why do you think so many Millennials lavish spending on their pets the way they do? How can retailers use people’s love for their pets to create deeper connections with consumers?

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Braintrust
"Retailers that are serious about connecting with pet owners should welcome (well-behaved) fur babies too."
"Maybe if retailers took their dog to work they’d be a lot happier and that happiness would spread."
"Millennials as a group value experiences more than products compared to prior generations. Pets are the ultimate experience."

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26 Comments on "Millennials spend like crazy on their ‘fur-babies’"


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Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

This is the age of Instagram! Photo-friendly pets give younger people new ways to express themselves and share their lifestyles. Remember haul videos? Brands and retailers that give customers a way to share pictures of their products in action enjoy better customer engagement.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

While this is interesting, spending on pets has always been high. There have always been grooming parlors in places like NYC. We have, for a very long time, had a pet hotel in Scottsdale. I don’t see this as a new trend. Perhaps Millennials spend a bit more as pets are a substitute for kids, which many families are now having later in life.

In any case, the phrase “it’s a dog’s life” probably needs to change. It sounds like pooches are living in the lap of luxury.

Mike Osorio
BrainTrust

I am seeing this trend globally and I think it speaks to a level of disconnection Millennials feel, despite social media’s promise of closer connections. I think the science is fairly clear that in fact, the digitization of our lives is causing a feeling of isolation and reduced intimacy. Pets provide something that is missing: unquestionable love and companionship.

Pets have always had this impact, it is just even more necessary for this generation with less meaningful relationships and fewer children. Therefore, I see this trend accelerating and enriching for those retailers and brands who can connect with this emotional need.

Max Goldberg
Guest

This makes sense. Millennials flock to urban areas that have sky-high rents and real estate prices. They are delaying starting families. So they lavish attention on a more affordable option — pets. Retailers would be wise to cater to this high-margin category.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
Millennials grew up during a time in which very few new things happened. I was a Baby Boomer and saw the creation of technology and all the new devices from VCRs and camcorders to CDs and eventually the internet, along with Wi-Fi and today’s latest devices such as smartphones and tablets. As Baby Boomers, because there was always something “new” to spend our free time with that’s what we did. Pets were there, and many people had them, but they weren’t treated like Millennials treat them today because they’re not just a loving animal to spend time with, they are filling a void, and that is filling in the gap of what would otherwise be boredom. Also, most Millennials are doing everything later in life. They tend to stay in school longer getting a second and sometimes third degree, they marry later in life than my generation and also start a family later than we did. Luckily, we’re all expected to live longer so Millennials will have extra time to enjoy all the wonders of… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust
Well, here I thought I was just an old cat lady. Apparently I’m a closet Millennial. Honestly, these kinds of generalizations are a bit crazy-making, as my friends, who are mostly of a certain age, lavish the same kind of attention on their “kids” (we don’t call them fur babies. Just “the kids”) as said Millennials. Chewy does an incredible job of creating those kinds of connections. They’ll send sympathy cards if a pet passes, will create painted portraits of customers’ pets and send them out, unsolicited, will give advice when asked about the best food for finicky and otherwise intestinally-challenged pets. To me, even though they’re a virtual company, they do the best job connecting with customers. Another site I became aware of, Dirty Fur Clothing, has photos of dog owners and their dogs on the home page. For sure, honoring the connection and indulging it is a good plan. Allowing dogs in grocery stores and restaurants is not, so much. There’s a whole other segment of the population that isn’t keen for that.… Read more »
Chris Buecker
BrainTrust

In the age of the internet, social media and smartphones especially, young people have gotten ultimately more lonely. Conversations and relationship have often shifted to the virtual world. Yet human being need physical company around them. Pets are a sort of substitution for that. As for a child, people like to treat their “friend/child” in the best possible way and spoil them which includes buying specific products for them. Pet retail is a big business. In the future, we will see pet stores convert into more experience-focused stores. I also found it amazing what a considerable big assortment the German discounters such as Aldi and Lidl have always had in their offerings. This is due to the promising margin this category offers.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Between Mike Osorio and Max Goldberg, they nailed the reasons. I have little more to add.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Pets are a private pleasure not usually welcomed by others in public places. Programs that allow pet owners to enjoy more experiences and places with their pets could attract more customers, and brand messaging should appear in locations that people and pets enjoy.

Jasmine Glasheen
Staff

Agreed, Lyle. I’m personally always on the lookout for cafes with an outdoor component so that I can bring my dog when I write outside.

Cat cafes are also popping up in urban areas and they are always the talk of the town on social media.

Maybe pet inclusivity is another way to provide experiential retail to young(ish) customers.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

I agree Lyle! Events, experiences, or stores that welcome pets are a great way for retailers to attract customers.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

You are all right on target. Do something for my dog and you do something for me. And I won’t forget it.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I agree, Lyle.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

People love their pets, and Millennials are connecting to their pets in a more connected world. This results in a greater spend at a higher level, when we examine increased ownership of pets. Owning a pet gives back to the owner and everyone around them creating deeper connections in new ways that Millennials treasure.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

It’s fun! As a Millennial pet owner, I absolutely dress my fur baby up for Halloween, and have him pose in Christmas sweaters and other cute outfits like tracksuits. He doesn’t necessarily love the outfits, but he definitely loves the attention. I would love to see more stores that are pet-friendly. Lowe’s, Home Depot, Petco and many garden centers allow furry friends, but it’s definitely a minority. Retailers that are serious about connecting with pet owners should welcome (well-behaved) fur babies too.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
First, dogs particularly (horses a close second and forgive me cat people), are one way you know there is a God. Unconditional love. Immediate forgiveness for wrongdoing. Loyalty regardless of circumstance. Reassurance that everything will be okay and on and on. In short, almost everything we rarely get from other human beings. They are the love anchor of our lives that is so desperately missing. I’m not sure that this is any more true of Millennials than other demographics. That said, perhaps the younger set can more clearly see the mess the rest of us have made of the world. We Boomers are like a hoarder who doesn’t think their house is a mess. The current political culture is the prime example. In that context it is often said that if you want a friend in politics, get a dog. Many have given up and resigned to the reality that they have to look elsewhere in nature to find the soul-food they need. Sad. What does this mean in regard to retail having the same… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I raise my hand and confess. My wife and I are not Millennials; but do lavish attention on our dog. She is definitely a part of our family. She get all the attention. The one thing we do not do is put clothing on her, other than a sweater when it gets too cold. Chewy does a good job marketing to folks like us. They have found a niche market that is growing on an almost daily basis. Pet stores are also doing a good job. Their problem is maintaining merchandise levels and not knowing when out-of-stock items will be back on the shelves.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

I’m with you on who gets the attention, brother Ed. Yesterday I had to finish the old eggs at breakfast while the dog got a fresh, organic, free-range egg.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

You summed it up all in that one sentence Ian.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I remember a survey about how women spend more time choosing a gift for their pets than they do for their spouse or significant other. It made me laugh because it’s probably true.

Rich and I have run all sorts of pet related events with indie retailers, everything from adoption events to pet psychics (lines around the building) to Santa Paws photos with Santa (tiny hamsters to 300 pound potbelly pigs). It’s a huge opportunity for retailers because pet events always draw a crowd.

We also work a lot in the death care industry where pet loss is an important and growing field. Pet loss is devastating because, as Jasmine points out, we treat them like our children. While they are here, we pamper them, and when they are gone we mourn their loss.

I don’t think this trend is unique to Millennials. Everyone I know is crazy about their little furry guys, I know I am.

Shelley E. Kohan
BrainTrust

Pet ownership has transformed into pet parenting and dogs have moved from the outside dog house into the bedroom (more than 60 percent of dog owners allow the pooch in the bed). Retailers can connect with pet owners by allowing “pets” to be part of the experience from a water bowl at the store, treats at the POS or social media connections welcoming pet photos. Retailers can make sure they are added to appropriate apps like BRING FIDO. Notable pet companies who “get the pet parenting trend” are: best-in-class from a dog perspective combining the trend of both pet parenting and subscription retail is BARK BOX. The most compassionate retailer Une Belle Vie offers pet urns to celebrate the life of one’s pet.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Humans have always enjoyed lavishing gifts/attention on their pets. It is an experience that makes us happy. My goodness, when I come home from being gone 15 minutes, my dog is so happy to see me I want to give him something back. This hasn’t changed over the years but maybe the number of apartments allowing pets has changed or more kids are living at home thus the resulting higher number of Millennials having pets. That part I don’t know. I am not even sure retailers need to tell us how much we love our pets so much as love them with us. When we walk into PetSmart and the employees remark how cute my dog is, I know I’m in a good place. That is what it takes … for my 2 cents.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

One more point. Southwest Airlines jumped on this trend very early. They make it easy to bring a small dog on board their planes. More so, their staff seems to pay attention to the dogs before boarding and while in flight.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

So much focus has been given to what animals (not just “pets”) do for us, I think a bigger shift is at work toward what we can and should do for them. My Millennial fellow animal lover friends embrace this shift in perspective toward responsibility, not just one-way benefit and pampering. It translates into product sales, vet visits, donations, etc. For me, “fur babies,” “kids,” and other terms aren’t a projection, but more reflective of how seriously I take my life-long responsibility to my guys.

Jeff Miller
BrainTrust
Millennials as a group value experiences more than products compared to prior generations. Pets are the ultimate experience. That along with getting married and having kids later in life are the core reasons why spending has increased. There is also a simple economic reason that applies to all pet owners not just Millennials. We have learned that quality food is much better for the health of our pets than mass produced kibble of dubious origins and that food costs more which is part of increased dollars spent. 3 simple ways for retailers to create deeper connections with customers: For pet retailers – they need to stand out from mass merchants and provide high touch, high quality, helpful service and education along with in store experiences. Healthy Spot which is a smaller chain on the West Coast is amazing at this. Best in store employees across almost any retail experience. Online retailers in the pet space need to create an ongoing and recurring relationship with their customers. Retailers and even restaurants and others businesses need to… Read more »
Stephen Kraus
BrainTrust
Several studies have shown the strong connection that Millennials have with their pets, which certainly translates to spending. Some of it is the “pet as kid replacement” phenomenon – birth rates have dropped, with Millennials on average getting married later and having kids later (ok, perhaps “replacement” is a little strong, but certainly being child-free frees up discretionary time, money and emotional energy). And some of it is the “pet for unconditional love” effect — loneliness and depression are on the rise, fueled in part by weaker social bonds (despite the ubiquity of social media). Brands like Chewy have ridden this wave. They had very strong growth (Petsmart bought them last year) by connecting with digital-native mobile-first Millennials who want to buy online and are open to new brands. They connected with Millennials with both elements of their core offering (the convenience of delivery, good service, good value), as well as their positioning and communication (e.g., YouTube videos posted by their pet-loving employees, which come across as very authentic). As Millennials move into middle age,… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retailers that are serious about connecting with pet owners should welcome (well-behaved) fur babies too."
"Maybe if retailers took their dog to work they’d be a lot happier and that happiness would spread."
"Millennials as a group value experiences more than products compared to prior generations. Pets are the ultimate experience."

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