Veterinary professionals are constantly adapting to the latest technological developments, which is why it’s of little surprise that the growing trend of e-commerce has finally come to the animal healthcare industry. Practice owners, consolidators, and professionals all need to familiarize themselves with the basics of veterinary e-commerce to ensure they can retain their share of the market in the face of new competitors in the digital arena.
E-commerce operations are encroaching on the commercial turf of veterinary clinics and consolidators alike, and they’ll only continue to grow in the years to come. What is e-commerce, anyway, and how can veterinary professionals use it to reach more pet owners? Here’s how consolidators can master veterinary e-commerce to remain at the top of the industry.
E-Commerce Is Taking Over Pet Supplies Sales
E-commerce operations were once viewed as relatively minor threats to established players in the veterinary industry. It was believed that only a fraction of clients would have the patience or knowhow to order pet food, medicine, and other supplies online so that it was shipped to their doorsteps. These days, however, e-commerce has become a regular facet of the consumer lifestyle and threatens the bottom line of many independent clinics and hospital networks.
According to one report from Grand View Research, the global pet care e-commerce market size is swelling by the day and will reach a mammoth $54.95 billion by 2027. With internet usage having gone from a luxury to a mainstay of modern life, more households are realizing the benefits of e-commerce when it comes to purchasing pet supplies. Veterinary consolidators and private practice owners shouldn’t resist this trend of digitization, but should instead view it as an opportunity to scale up their own growth.
There are different types of e-commerce, some of which are easier to master than others. Using the internet to sell and deliver pet food and other basic supplies – such as doggy beds or scratching posts – is so achievable that local businesses that don’t normally specialize in veterinary care can integrate these products into their digital offerings. Selling prescription medication or offering specialty food is a more complicated e-commerce service, however, and is only viable for established veterinary practices or nationwide brands with extensive resources.
Major companies like Walmart are now taking steps to launch and expand online pet pharmacies, which could cut into the profit margins of veterinary clinics and hospitals that usually excel at these services. Medical e-commerce has only grown more popular during a pandemic that forced the suspension of in-person business and led customers to flock online in search of the goods and services they needed.
E-Commerce Opportunities for Veterinary Groups
Consolidators aren’t left without options in the face of rising e-commerce sales. Indeed, many established veterinary groups are beginning to further digitize their operations so that they can continue to expand their e-commerce operations once the pandemic subsides and in-person business returns at full capacity. Creating an e-commerce service isn’t an easy feat, yet pivoting to become an e-commerce company comes with many enticing financial rewards in an era where consumers first turn to the Internet when they need a problem solved.
Assess the following opportunities to determine whether they’re worth pursuing:
- Shipping dietary food. Pet owners are passionate about finding the healthiest food for their beloved companions. Veterinary consolidators can meet the needs of these pet owners by shipping specialty dietary foods directly to their doorsteps. Unlike many durable products which are only purchased once, dietary consumables must frequently be replenished. This makes them an ideal way to generate continuous revenue and a long-term commercial relationship with pet owners.
- Subscription boxes. These popular subscription boxes allow pet owners to sign up for monthly deliveries which are delivered right to the front door. Subscription boxes can contain specialty foods and treats, toys, leashes, and other luxuries which pet owners adore. An enticing subscription service can include brand-specific items that help generate revenue for your veterinary practice.
- Deliverable pet medicine. Sending safe, secure, and reliable shipments of prescription drugs directly to pet owners is a great way for veterinary consolidators to appeal to younger customers who prefer e-commerce to in-person shopping. Shipping medicine to doorsteps also allows the continuation of business during pandemics when in-person commerce is impeded.
It is critical that people get medications for their pets safely and efficiently, and with the increasing demand over the last year for prescription delivery from both pet owners and veterinary practices, it’s clear the VetShipRx platform can benefit all stakeholders. When it comes to e-commerce, providing options and greater freedom of choice to pet owners while keeping the veterinary practice in the driver seat may ultimately be the most important consideration.Through our partnership with Shipt, we are able to dramatically increase the availability of on-demand delivery for those essential and recommended products directly from a local veterinarian
Chris Lutz, SVP of Revenue at VitusVet
Launching an e-commerce platform may require the hiring of a dedicated IT professional. Veterinary consolidators must understand that digital advertising and the maintenance of an e-commerce platform will require a healthy budget. A robust social media presence will also help connect with pet owners who may be interested in your veterinary services once they become accessible online. Consider enlisting the help of popular mobile apps for veterinarians, and whether developing a brand-specific app for your practice can help you appeal to additional pet owners.
Comprehensive Guide on Becoming a Competitive E-Commerce Player
Launching an e-commerce platform is only the beginning of your foray into the digital world. In order to become competitive with existing platforms managed by other consolidators, certain steps must be taken to optimize your operation. Investing in cybersecurity measures that will protect consumer privacy while avoiding costly and embarrassing data breaches is of the utmost importance. Understand the basics of cybersecurity in veterinary business matters before investing too heavily in digital technology which can be difficult to control.
A single data breach can diminish the reputation of your brand and turn pet owners toward other platforms hosted by your competitors. Larger veterinary networks in particular, must exercise caution to avoid ransomware attacks and other debilitating digital disasters that are becoming more commonplace in a world ruled by computers. In addition to investing in robust cybersecurity standards, becoming a competitive e-commerce player also requires an in-depth knowledge of your target market and the best industry practices.
Investing in online marketing experts and cybersecurity professionals will thus yield dividends for veterinary consolidators interested in the growing e-commerce sector. Beginning with a limited product range that focuses on expensive medical devices and rare health products is also an option, though scaling your e-commerce operation will require offering a greater selection of goods in the future.
It’s also extremely important to remember that creating your very own digital store is only appropriate at a certain stage on maturity of your clinic or veterinary group. Otherwise you risk applying your efforts sporadically, which, in its turn, may become a pivotal cause of a significant deceleration of the growth or its full halt. The perfect time to become an e-commerce mogul can be determined in accordance with the Consolidator Maturity Model.
Book a meeting with your VIS guide to learn where your business is on the Maturity Model.
In addition to understanding hospital value creation, consolidators who want to excel in the digital realm should realize that pet consumer behavior is being shaped by digital technology. Customers are now purchasing both durable and consumable pet products online at an unprecedented rate, especially when it comes to younger consumers who will be in the market for decades to come. To effectively compete for the valuable attention of these high-spending consumers, veterinary consolidators need to understand the “Amazon Effect.”
Understanding the Amazon Effect
Outlined by the American Animal Hospital Associated in a recent publication focused on e-commerce, the Amazon Effect is the great disruption to e-commerce operations brought about by the rise of Amazon’s massively popular web services. Amazon’s ubiquity in the modern marketplace means that veterinary professionals launching their own e-commerce platforms will have to compete with an immense product selection provided by an existing platform known to most consumers.
In addition to offering a huge number of products, the Amazon Effect also refers to the low pricing pressure that nascent platforms must contend with. Veterinary consolidators seeking to scale up their e-commerce platforms must ensure they don’t charge prices which are prohibitively expensive. Generating revenue may not come from steep prices, but rather from repeat service that’s won by convincing consumers that your platform is the most reliable and affordable.
Fast and sometimes free delivery services must also be on the radar of any veterinary consolidator hoping to leverage the current e-commerce boom to bring additional revenue into their network. Veterinary consolidators seeking to reach a large number of clients must realize that offering excellent delivery services is one of the most fundamental elements of becoming competitive in an increasingly crowded e-commerce scene. Prescription drugs in particular, must be delivered with timeliness and reliability to ensure the health and happiness of patients who won’t stick around for long if their medicine is late.
Finally, veterinary practices seeking to expand their digital footprint must appreciate the importance of ensuring repeat purchases through their platform. Offering a competitive subscription service that includes easy-to-use auto replenishment options will ensure that one-time customers become long-term clients who return to your platform again and again. A discount for first or second-time buyers may help establish a trend in a pet owner’s behavior that they’re unlikely to buck in the future.
Veterinary professionals hoping to succeed in e-commerce should study and learn from current industry leaders. Companies such as Chewy have discovered that shipping specialty products to pet owners in a timely and reliable fashion is a tremendously successful business model. Operating at scale, these companies can offer a wide selection of brands and competitive discounts. Veterinary practices which remain unsold on the idea of e-commerce should consider the fact that Chewy was so successful that it was purchased by PetSmart for well over $3 billion.