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ActiVet: Are vets an anachronism in the age of one-stop shopping and online services?

The landscape for companion animal care and the delivery of veterinary services needs major retooling, according to ActiVet Insights.

US-based animal health-focused consultancy ActiVet has revealed results of online research it conducted among 1,500 US pet owners aged 21 to 79 in a new report.

The firm stated: "This research clearly indicates independent veterinarians can compete across a wide range of product and service offerings by leveraging their deep knowledge of individual patients, needs of pet parents and by leveraging a wide range of technologies that are emerging on a daily basis.

"There is no question that consumers generally, and pet parents specifically, are utilizing a wide range of digital assets/devices (including the ubiquity of quality information) to reduce friction typically encountered in receiving quality veterinary care. Pet care products, services, procedures and appointments must now fit into pet parents' convenience-driven world, which younger consumers take for granted – a world in which virtually any product or service is but a touch away on a smartphone screen."

ActiVet said generational, attitudinal and technological forces have combined to create a new pet care landscape for companion animal owners and veterinary service providers. Younger generations, described as the "pet gen" in the report are at the forefront of this shift – defined by always-on connectivity, social sharing, immediacy and frictionless transactions.

While most pet parents continue to use independent veterinarians (77% of survey respondents), ActiVet's report said barriers to newer healthcare options are falling.

The survey suggested visits to the vet decline with the age of the pet owner. Generation Z respondents went to the vet around 5.4 times per year, while visits for baby boomers (2.2 times) and the silent generation (1.9) were considerably less.

"This implies the bulk of veterinary care is consumed in the earlier age ranges – where first impressions and loyalties are formed," the report noted.

ActiVet chief executive Sébastien Lafon told Animal Pharm: "Clinics in retail stores with multiple locations and more convenient hours appeal to gen Z and millennial pet parents. These shifts are consistent with trends in human health – primary care services have been offered at pharmacies and store fronts for over a decade. Less-than-stellar satisfaction with the primary vet has given rise to information-thirsty pet parents, who soak up information from multiple sources in making decisions. This is truly an opportunity for the independent vet and large organizations to help fill the information and convenience gap.

"Gen Z and millennials indicate they visit different vets because they cannot always get appointments when they want or prefer to combine a vet visit with other errands. They see few negative consequences of those decisions."

The report said younger generations tend to see the quality of medical care within a retail environment as being "just as good as an independent veterinarian". Younger respondents also said their vet takes a holistic view when treating their pet (although this primary vet could be inside a retail environment).

The survey respondents indicated the proportion of their online purchases will increase in the year ahead.

Acceleration toward tech and medicines

ActiVet suggested the strong human-animal bond bodes well for the uptake of pet monitoring systems, sensors and devices based on the internet-of-things.

"83% of respondents do not currently own any type of pet monitoring system," it stated. "As age increases, that percentage grows. Generation Z and millennials are more likely to own both passive and interactive systems. This implies an increasing market opportunity for monitoring technology as younger generations age.

"85% of those with a pet monitoring system have an integrated smart phone app and interestingly this figure is almost universal among those in generation X and older. 78% of those with a pet monitoring system are checking on their pet either continuously or multiple times a day. The percent who are doing so continuously is highest for millennials.

"Of those who do not currently have a pet monitoring system, 45% overall express significant positive interest – with strongest interest among generation Z and millennial pet parents."

ActiVet: "The independent veterinarian model is not broken but it is clearly under assault from multiple forces – demography, technology and quickly evolving consumer attitudes. For agile practitioners, creative problem-solving and available solutions can help him/her to stay relevant and top of mind."

In the pet medication space, purchasing is being "siphoned off by major pet retail and big box chains and online retailers. ActiVet said vets can counter this trend by leveraging replenishment technologies, improving interaction with pet owners and solidifying their role as the primary caregiver.

The survey suggested most flea, tick and heartworm medications are bought from a vet. However, other channels (online, big box stores and pet store chains) continue to chip away at market share. Most survey respondents said their online buying has increased in recent years. Additionally, 39% use some form of automatic replenishment, mostly for pet food.

"Wellness visit, annual checkups and vaccinations account for the majority of services received from the primary vet in the prior 12 months," the report pointed out. "Yet only about 1/3 of respondents claim that they are buying prescription flea/tick or heartworm medicines from their primary vet – a huge opportunity."

The most commonly bought prescription products in the past 12 months by the older respondents were heartworm preventatives, while generation Z and millennial respondents favored flea/tick topicals and chewable medications.

The infographic below shows the annual spending on veterinary medicines by each age category.

Vet model not yet broken

"The independent veterinarian model is not broken but it is clearly under assault from multiple forces – demography, technology and quickly evolving consumer attitudes," ActiVet stated. "For agile practitioners, creative problem-solving and available solutions can help him/her to stay relevant and top of mind. Those who adapt are well-positioned to meet the needs of a new and evolving generation of pet parents focused on convenience, speed and solutions that fit their lifestyle and not vice versa.

"Vets who listen and learn can meet the needs of the information-thirsty, convenience-driven pet parent and keep them coming back for years to come."

For more details on the report, please contact Mr Lafon at sebastien@adapt1st.com or ActiVet's head of market research Bob Walker at rww@safllc.com.

ActiVet Insights – a brand owned by Adapt1st – has a mission to help organizations navigate the future trends, emerging technology and consumer insights that will reshape the animal health industry. 

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