Home delivery, autoship important offerings for veterinary clients

Brakke survey shows veterinarians may offer online options, but pet owners aren't always aware

For many customers, if it’s not extremely convenient, then it’s inconvenient, says Richard Hayworth, a senior consultant with Brakke Consulting.

In an online, convenience-focused, post-pandemic world, people can make purchases from their phone instantly, so that is now the expectation. Generation Z, in particular, prefer ordering online and home delivery. But so do elderly and chronically ill people, along with those who have social anxiety or can’t easily leave their homes, such as new parents.

Hayworth says veterinary practices are in a good position to serve these customers if they would just promote their online services more.

Young Asian man with his cat excitedly opening a delivery package
Veterinary clinics can offer autoship and home delivery, which deliver benefits for pets, their owners, and veterinary practices.

“They can win—and better compete for online pet medicine sales,” he said. “Pet owners would overwhelmingly buy from their veterinarian if price and convenience was the same.”

Hayworth gave the presentation “Home Delivery of Pet Meds: Winning the Future” on January 14 at the Veterinary Meeting and Expo in Orlando, Florida, and on February 19 at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas. His talks were based on a recent Brakke Pet Medicines Home Delivery Study that included interviews with 1,000 pet owners and 300 veterinarians. The survey looked at consumer preferences and behaviors in pet medicine purchasing, customer satisfaction with different channels and service expectations, and the competitive landscape among the five major online pet medicine retailers.

Customer satisfaction and compliance

The first online pet prescription retailer, 1-800-PetMeds, came on the scene in 1996, selling prescription and nonprescription pet medication and supplements. The company, now just PetMeds, has since lost market position with the entry of competitors with significant market power, including Chewy, PetSmart, and Walmart.

These companies understand that home delivery and autoship greatly matter for business. He noted that 75% of Chewy’s sales came from its autoship program in the first two quarters of 2023, which the company acknowledges drives long-term customer loyalty.

“At the end of the day, I think that home delivery, whether it’s through a veterinarian or not, helps with stickiness for the customer. They are making it more convenient by getting it delivered, and don’t really have to think about it,” Hayworth said. “Why do you think Chewy pushes autoship so much? Because they know once (customers) get on it, they’ll stick.”

But the Brakke study results showed that veterinarians don’t generally advertise that they offer autoship, suggesting a lost opportunity in meeting the needs of pet owners.

According to the Brakke survey, three-quarters of veterinarians said they have an online pharmacy and a majority said they actively promote it; however, half of responding pet owners didn’t know that their veterinarian had one. Further, most veterinarians surveyed don’t think or don’t know if home delivery helps with compliance, but a large majority of pet owners surveyed said it does.

Finally, both veterinarians and pet owners thought online orders would grow slightly over the next one to two years. However, average sales for veterinary clinic online stores doubled from 2017-21, and then doubled again from 2021-23, gains that were mainly driven by consumer demand.

Omnichannel offerings

Hayworth says veterinarians have one thing these online companies don’t have: trust. Pet owners trust their veterinarians implicitly, he said, and what veterinarians do with that relationship is up to them.

Survey results also showed pet owners preferentially would buy from their veterinarian if all things were equal.

“Every purchase behind initial purchase is replenishment, whether it’s dog food or heartworm medication, all of those are up for grabs. Their next purchase could be anywhere. If you don’t have (clients) on autoship, if you don’t have some stickiness there, then those purchases can go elsewhere,” Hayworth said.

“You can capture a lot of revenue if you just proactively communicate,” he continued. “Doing a couple little things can make it stickier (for them) at the veterinary clinic rather than having a replenishment order elsewhere.”

He cited a study Walmart conducted on its pet product customers, which showed they are willing to buy from multiple channels and that one channel will likely not dominate with a pet owner. Still, animal health companies and veterinarians should keep an eye on businesses such as Walmart and potentially Amazon in the long term because of their omnichannel capabilities that provide a seamless shopping experience across all channels, including in-store, mobile, and online. Chewy just recently announced it will be opening brick-and-mortar veterinary clinics this year.

These retailers are crossing traditional boundaries by expanding into veterinary services to increase profitability and pet owner trust.

“Veterinarians have (that trust), so if they can have veterinarians in stores, that’s huge,” he said.

For information on how to purchase the Brakke survey or for questions, email hayworthatbrakkeconsulting [dot] com.

A version of this story appears in the May 2024 print issue of JAVMA