Bringing Furry Friends to Stores Could Boost Retail and Strengthen Social Bonds

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed a surge in pet ownership. According to recent reports, an estimated 3.2 million households welcomed a new furry companion into their lives during the first year of the pandemic. Interestingly, it was the younger generation, aged between 16 and 34, who accounted for the majority of these new pet owners.

While many people enjoy the convenience of online shopping, the question arises: would you take your beloved pet with you to a physical store? Retailers, eager to entice the younger demographic back to brick-and-mortar shops, are now considering the option of allowing shoppers to bring their animal companions along.

One such retailer, British homeware chain Wilko, has made an announcement that is causing a stir. They have introduced a pet-friendly policy in 248 of their stores, permitting customers to shop with their four-legged friends. With the exception of food aisles, pets are welcome throughout the stores, marking a sensible compromise.

However, is Wilko barking up the wrong tree? Some disgruntled shoppers have raised concerns regarding hygiene, phobias, and poorly behaved pets. While these concerns are legitimate, one could argue that they are outweighed by the potential emotional, experiential, and commercial benefits of allowing people to shop with their furry companions.

Research indicates that the social aspect of retail shopping is often regarded as a crucial motivation. This importance can be understood through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a psychological theory that explores the connection between human needs and desires. Social shopping can fulfill the need for love and belonging, as well as the desire for esteem. For instance, being seen as part of the in-crowd at popular stores or prestigious retailers like Harrods. Furthermore, our research shows that when shopping becomes a social experience through entertainment activities, individuals tend to spend more time and money in shopping malls.

Nevertheless, academic research has predominantly focused on socializing with humans, including friends, family, and store personnel. This definition is becoming increasingly limited as new forms of interaction emerge in the retail sector, such as human-robot interactions.

Reports suggest that young people find online shopping more convenient, effortless, and economical. However, online shopping lacks the same social benefits as in-person shopping, especially when considering our four-legged friends. Recognizing and embracing new forms of social shopping could be a viable strategy to bring people back to our bustling high streets.

Pets are widely considered to be part of the family in many countries. Therefore, it seems unfair to exclude our canine companions from family activities like shopping. Another study suggests that human-pet relationships can be just as intimate and intense as human-human relationships. The anxiety and guilt experienced when leaving our furry family members behind while going shopping could be alleviated by allowing pets into stores or designating specific pet-friendly hours.

Disallowing pets in stores may even contribute to consumer vulnerability, a term that encompasses any situation in which a person is unable to effectively engage in the marketplace.

Negative emotional states can hinder shoppers from taking their time to browse and explore in stores. When individuals are rushed, knowing they have to return to their beloved pets at home, it can lead to missed sales opportunities for stores and impulsive purchases that result in later returns.

On the other hand, embracing pet-friendly policies in retail could bring significant economic benefits to brands. Pet owners may be more inclined to spend money on pet accessories, contributing to the thriving pet industry. Additionally, they might enjoy dining at dog-friendly cafes and experience joy from walking around stores with their furry companions and interacting with other animals.

Furthermore, allowing pets in stores presents an opportunity for retailers to test pet-friendly merchandise or organize special events to attract more shoppers. Research suggests that events not only entertain shoppers but also foster social interactions and encourage exploration, leading to increased time and money spent in stores.

Retailers can address concerns about hygiene, fears, and potential messes by implementing simple measures. They could designate specific pet-friendly shopping hours and create imaginative signs to set shoppers’ expectations, such as “When your pooch makes a mess, please clean up.”

As more households welcome pets into their homes, it would be a wise strategy for retailers to extend a warm welcome to them as well. Doing so could create new business opportunities, rejuvenate high streets, and encourage shoppers to stretch their legs—and their pets’ legs—as they enjoy a day out in town.

Lauren Redford
Lauren Redford
Journalist Lauren Redford is a seasoned business journalist who focuses on regional areas throughout the United Kingdom. With her expertise and dedication, Lauren brings insightful coverage of local communities and their economic landscapes. With a meticulous approach and a passion for storytelling, she uncovers stories that resonate with readers and offers a deeper understanding of the business world. Lauren's commitment to delivering accurate and engaging news makes her a valuable member of the News Write Ups team.

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