Exclusive report: New study reveals insights into pet owners’ purchasing decisions
A new study of pet owner behavior has found important differences in the ways millennial pet owners make decisions about their pets’ care compared with older pet owners—and how and when both groups decide to involve a veterinarian.
The Pet Owner Paths research, sponsored by Merck, Unfenced (an animal health creative agency) and Kynetec (a market research firm), looks at the specific steps pet owners take when making decisions about their pets’ health. The research was released exclusively to dvm360.
In addition to looking at younger versus older pet owners, researchers examined decision making by product category (including dental, dermatology and pain), differences between dog and cat owners, differences when a pet is sick versus when it’s healthy, and more.
Here are some key topline findings from the research.
Millennials are the future—and the future is now
According to the American Pet Products Association, millennials are now the largest segment of pet owners. They are conscientious and poised to be excellent veterinary clients, a report on the research states. Specifically, according to the report, millennials are:
- Investing more time in their pets, evaluating their needs more thoroughly and spending more money.
- More likely to use veterinary products preventively rather than just as a treatment.
- More likely to use products continuously versus intermittently.
- More likely to get dental cleanings and use dental rinses.
- More likely to see veterinarians as integral to their journey as pet owners.
Millennials are invested in the ‘learning journey’
For younger pet owners, decision making is “a long, complex and often iterative journey,” the Pet Owner Paths report states. This journey takes them substantially longer than it does older pet owners, and it does not always end with a purchase. “Even after researching and evaluating options, millennials are less likely to purchase a product and stop the process; they often want to keep looking,” the report says. Millennials tend to cast a wide net when they’re looking for information to support a decision—they “actively gather, curate and assess information from many, many sources.”
Veterinarians are integral to the millennial’s journey
According to the Pet Owner Paths research, millennials are more likely to involve their veterinarian in their journey than older pet owners (57 percent versus 42 percent). They’re also more likely to report that they ultimately follow the veterinarian’s recommendations (50 percent versus 31 percent).
On the other hand, millennials are more likely to get their information from multiple sources in the veterinary clinic (veterinarians, technicians and front office employees); traditional pet owners rely almost entirely on the veterinarian.
Millennials demand instant access and communication
When millennials were asked what they most valued as a veterinary service offering, they chose 24/7 chat or texting availability as one of their top options—it was No. 1 for dog owners and No. 2 for cat owners. These pet owners are also more likely than older clients to reach out to the veterinarian using alternative methods (social media, email), and they are also heavy users of on-demand information sources.
Cat owners are not small dog owners
The Pet Owner Paths researchers discovered that cat owners as a whole spend more time on the decision-making journey than dog owners, regardless of generation. They’re more likely to use online sources to gather information, jumping on the web immediately to find answers to their questions. Cat owners are also more inclined to read product packaging than dog owners, and more millennial cat owners than millennial dog owners recall receiving a specific recommendation from their veterinarian. Millennial cat owners are the most likely of any segment to use alternative communication methods (email, social media posts) to reach out to their veterinarian.
Veterinarians and pet owners see the world differently
The research also highlighted important differences between how veterinarians and pet owners view various aspects of pet care:
- Preventive health. Veterinarians see preventive care as spaying and neutering, providing vaccines and establishing a parasite control program. They believe they are responsible for defining preventive care appropriately and providing it for the pet. Pet owners on the other hand believe preventive care involves emotional well-being, exercise, nutrition, play and veterinary care. They think they are the ones responsible for providing these things.
- The veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). In the veterinarian’s mind, the doctor assumes responsibility for making medical judgments regarding patient health and the client agrees to follow those instructions. For the pet owner, the VCPR is a trusting bond with a significant care provider who knows and cares about the pet and participates with the pet owner to provide the best care.
- The purpose of a veterinary visit. For veterinarians, it’s to evaluate and determine the best course of action. For the pet owner, it’s to get expert advice to include in the decision-making process.
- Dr. Google. For veterinarians, the web is a “dangerous, misinformed competitor to the veterinarian’s authority and client relationships,” according to the report. For pet owners, it’s an on-demand source of copious information that they can curate to be more informed as they make decisions.
Here are some other interesting trends identified in the research:
Millennial dog owners are moving away from small dog ownership and toward medium-sized dogs (in one segment of the study, 50 percent of millennials owned a medium-sized dog compared with 34 percent of older owners of dogs).
Pet ownership is becoming more balanced between men and women. More millennial dog owners are male (39 percent) compared with older dog owners (29 percent), and more millennial cat owners are male (46 percent) compared with older cat owners (31 percent).
While the Pet Owner Paths study contains much more information (look for further coverage in dvm360 magazine, Vetted and Firstline as well as on dvm360.com), veterinarians can take immediate action by engaging with millennials differently, researchers report: They can embrace alternative methods of communication, stop trying to compete with Dr. Google and instead embrace it, and have patience with the long and involved decision-making journey millennials need to travel for their pets’ health.