Diggo data show strong pet owner interest in Walmart veterinary services

dvm360dvm360 May 2020
Volume 51
Issue 5

New research shows that pet owners anticipate lower prices—as well as good quality care—in Walmart-based veterinary clinics. Here’s how to compete.

Walmart store logo

Andrei / stock.adobe.com

It’s easy to dismiss the idea that mass market veterinary services such as clinics within Walmart could really lure your clients away. Everybody knows Walmart is a discount store, after all, and you get what you pay for. The pet owners you serve care more about quality than that. And yet…

New survey results from an exclusive study by Diggo—a service that provides an unfiltered view of what today’s pet owners think about veterinary care and their pets’ health—show that pet owners are not as discriminating as veterinarians think. And you may even have an inkling from their current behavior that pet owners don’t see the distinctions you do among different sources of care.

In fact, Diggo research from 2019 shows that 22% of pet owners are getting veterinary care from more than one outlet. And pet owners using mass market options like Walmart say they chose that source for its good reputation and high-quality care, in addition to low pricing. While you may find the idea of a discount outlet offering high-quality care, well, ridiculous, pet owners don’t. And their perception is their reality.

The clients you see may also be getting veterinary care at a corporate practice, in their home from a mobile practitioner, at a discount vaccine clinic or from some other source. And they’re generally pleased with the service they get and the quality of care provided. Given this trend, we dug into the expectations of pet owners who list private practice as their primary source for veterinary care. Our hypothesis was that these pet owners would be the most likely group to understand the quality of care that private practices offer.

Save money, live better

What we found was that close to half (47%) of pet owners who currently use a traditional private practice as their primary source for veterinary care say the price at Walmart will be lower compared with their current veterinarian, and 60% believe the quality of care will be the same. Only 29% expect the quality of care at Walmart-based clinics to be lower than at a traditional practice (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Pet owner perceptions of quality and cost of veterinary care at Walmart versus traditional private practice.

Given what you know, it’s frustrating that pet owners don’t understand the value of your services and the high-quality care you offer. Our research shows that pet owners are likely to think a veterinarian has the same level of education and provides the same level of care no matter where they work (Figure 2). Pet owners are clearly hoping Walmart-based clinics can deliver against the Walmart value proposition: good products at a cheaper price.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Comments from pet owners who were favorable about the idea of Walmart-based veterinary services.

Veterinarians underestimate clients’ interest

We also asked pet owners which, if any, services they would consider obtaining from Walmart if their local supercenter offered a veterinary clinic. Then we asked veterinarians which services they thought pet owners would consider seeking from Walmart. The differences are striking.

A whopping 73% of pet owners said they would consider Walmart for at least one of the services Walmart-based veterinary practices offer. And it’s not just nail trims—although almost half of pet owners would consider a Walmart-based practice for that. A significant number of pet owners would also choose Walmart for medical services like wellness exams, rabies vaccines and ear infections.

Amplify your unique strengths

Here’s our point: You need to take this new competition seriously and think carefully about your team’s response. And there are some winning moves to make. Pet owners who have been with their veterinarian longer show more loyalty. So think about what you can do to build stronger bonds with clients faster. How can you create more touch points with pet owners? What do your most loyal clients love about you? How could you do more of that with less loyal clients?

Pet owners also recognize your strong team as one of the assets of a private practice. What could you do to raise pet owners’ awareness of the special strengths your team members bring to the table?

Your approach to this threat should be two-pronged: On the one hand, focus on retention by working hard at building and maintaining strong relationships with clients and their pets. And on the other hand, recognize that even clients who choose other outlets for basic care will need you for more advanced diagnosis and treatments, so they’re still worth investing in. How can you stay on their radar, even if they choose to get basic preventive care somewhere else?

Kimberly Ness is a marketing strategist and consultant with Trone Research + Consulting, the brains behind Diggo. Diggo, the voice of the pet owner, provides veterinary hospitals with an unfiltered, unbiased view of what today’s pet owners think about veterinary care and their pets’ health. For more Diggo research and reports, visit www.diggovet.com/.

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