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Petco is fighting the competition with voice-activated content on smart speakers

It appears that Petco Animal Supplies, better known as Petco, is turning to smart speakers to differentiate itself from the competition in an increasingly turbulent pet products market. A new interview on the Geomarketing blog with a professional from Petco partner Alpine.AI, a major developer of Google Assistant apps and Amazon Alexa skills, lays out the company’s strategy to position itself as the “best source of information” for pet owners.

The development of the new strategy comes from a report from Moody’s, as reported by RetailDive, which says that online sales are the fastest growing channel for pet sales and will be for the next five years. The report also shows that U.S. pet sales are growing not because the number of household pets is increasing but because zealous pet owners are buying them more and better items.

The Moody’s report finds that pet owners are also early ecommerce adopters is an interesting nugget for Petco, which is actively developing new ways of customer engagement and experience via Google and Amazon’s respective smart speakers.

Reaching customers and boosting both online and retail sales seems like a no-brainer but the goal seems to be secondary to Petco, according to the interview with Alpine.AI’s co-founder Adam Marchick, who says that the company’s other major goal is to connect Petco customers with its new care center, PetCoach, a digital service that provides pet owners with personalized advice from veterinarians. Petco acquired the service in April 2017.

Alpine.AI’s primary role in Petco’s new strategy is to develop PetCoach Google Assistant actions and Amazon Alexa skills that facilitate requests from smart device users for instant information about healthcare. The developer is using digital analytics and sophisticated natural language understanding to help digital assistants understand the brand, key products, and key lexicons that customers might request. Some of the questions PetCoach can field include:

  • Is ham good for cats?
  • What ages do puppies get shots?
  • Can my kitten have vitamins?
  • What can you give a dog whose teeth are weak?
  • What’s the recommended food for a young corgi?

Petco’s bet is that if PetCoach is recognized by consumers as the best source of pet information and the ability to find pet products intelligently on Alexa and Google Assistant, sales will be driven by content strategy as equally as advertising and media.

It’s a sound strategy but it’s a pretty good bet that Petco is still looking over its shoulder for the competition that’s right on their heels. Despite declining sales at brick-and-mortar stores over the past year, sales have kept steady due to the costs of services like grooming, training, and health care, a sector where competitor PetSmart is the largest service provider. Additionally, Petsmart’s recent acquisition of online pet retailer Chewy has boosted its ability to penetrate the online market.

Meanwhile, Amazon, Walmart, and independent online retailers like Bark are also surging in the market. In May, Amazon launched Wag, one of its latest brand labels, while pet products on Amazon grew over 40 percent last year and now make up over $2 billion in sales, annually.

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