THE CONSUMER: A MOST UNPREDICTABLE SPECIES!

For starters, isn't it relevant to remember that "our" consumer is a human being; and in being so is quite similar to you and me!

The human species tends to have a split personality; on the one hand the joyful and playful homo ludens takes decisions, whereas on the other hand the more severe and rational homo sapiens influences her or his own behavior.

What we do have to keep in mind however is that we are in an emotional industry; we talk about pets getting more and more integrated in the family. This justifies to look at our customers as homo sapiens, rather than homo ludens.

For the sake of clarity and (pseudo-)efficiency we put human beings in all sorts of boxes; we call these boxes target-groups. Of course the human beings = our customers fit in a huge number of boxes, but what we do not know is their set of priorities, i.e. which box comes first in their ranking, which second, etc. If the pet-keeping box ranks high on that list, fine for us in the industry; but if given a low priority, what do we do?

We try to influence the consumer as to her or his decision-making behavior!

And how do we do that?

By giving stimuli to try and stay loyal to the proposition we provide them with, whether that be product or service. We aim to create the satisfied customer.

In this respect the role of retail is increasingly important. Manufacturers can and do work out a wide array of stimuli, but if retail refuses to list and dedicate shelfspace to the proposition manufacturers'stimuli are an absolute waste of time and money.

So one might say that before we can even think about influencing the consumer it is paramount that the manufacturers influence the retailer. Who (re)acts much more as the homo ludens. But is otherwise sensitive to specials, i.e. a short-term offer like limited editions only available at a selected number or group of retailers. Reportedly, the Karl Lagerfeld collection especially designed for H&M boosted the latter's bottom-line with around 20%.

The clearest self-fulfilling prophesy in the industry is the following: for reasons of competition, retail started to use the price-weapon as a point of differentiation. Consumers bought products at a reduced price because they were given the opportunity; and therefore the conclusion seemed to be justified to say that consumers are price-conscious. I challenge that with the statement that if not having been given lower prices as a stimulus to buy, the consumer would still have continued to buy; at higher prices!

Of course discount is phenomenon that is here to stay. And in some countries (the perfect example would be grocery in Germany) so massive that one can ask oneself what they discount from.

Is discount of relevance to the pet industry? Once we look at product-categories that have reached their genuine point of saturation, price (which is not necessarily discount) becomes a more important weapon in the war with competition: but which product-categories have today genuinely reached that point? That is not to say that discount will not exist for the pet industry, but both manufacturer and (specialty) retailer are well advised to postpone the introduction of hard discount for pet related items for as long as possible!

After all, we are in an emotional industry supplying the homo ludens. Isn't it a bit too presumptuous that we put a price on our consumers emotions. And why should we give margin away to the benefit of the consumer, while the market still offers good opportunities for growth. Mustn't we (manufacturers and retailers alike) retain the potential margins to further grow the industry?

How! By offering stimuli to our consumers to change behavior, i.e. to buy more and better. Retail has a clear role to play in this process; it is closest to the final decision-maker, our consumer. And can react quickly to changing circumstances.

Turn the simple purchasing-process into an event. "Make me (the consumer) feel special and I will buy anything your recommend to me!" Puppy-corners that Fressnapf is currently testing in Germany and Austria are perfect examples of coming closer to the individual and emotional needs of their consumers.

One of the key objectives is to improve awareness. Not necessarily only brand, but explaining what your proposition genuinely means for the animal as a member of you consumer's family.

So inform your consumers, help them to become conscious, conscientious and responsable petowners; and continue with this process of informing, because after all, informing equals in our case influencing. Trigger their mind to trigger their purse! In the interest of both manufacturer and retailer.

A well-informed consumer is a loyal consumer and creating loyal consumers must be the objective of all of us in the industry. And above all, "our" loyal consumers become less unpredictable.

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