Following a trend in which American consumers increasingly see their pets as family members and are spending big bucks on products and services that emphasize animal health and well-being, 55-year-old pet retailer Petco is rebranding as a health and wellness company with a new look and a “major marketing campaign,” which will kick off in early 2021.
As a result, the retailer said it will no longer sell human- and bark-activated shock collars and is using the hashtag #StopTheShock to get the word out.
“Shock collars have been shown to increase fear, anxiety and stress in dogs, and we believe there’s a better way,” Petco CEO Ron Coughlin said in a statement.
Instead, Petco is encouraging positive reinforcement training methods, including a new online training program and classes led by more than 1,200 Petco-certified dog trainers. The retailer is also offering a free 60-minute online introductory course to a limited number of consumers through November.
The move indeed reflects consumer sentiment. In a study of 1,000 dog owners in September, Petco found 70% felt shock collars have a negative impact on their pet’s emotional or mental well-being and 69% considered shock collars a cruel training method. Additionally, 59% said they would rather shock themselves than use a shock collar on their dog.
Petco’s emphasis on health and wellness will also include:
- Affordable veterinary care as it expands its in-store vet hospitals from 100 to 140 by January;
- More pet insurance options like its Vital Care program, which offers services like routine vet exams, nail trims and teeth brushing for $19 a month;
- A redesign of the Petco website and app to “support digital-first health and wellness,” such as online appointment booking, a digital food finder, curbside pickup and same-day delivery;
- And the removal of artificial colors, preservatives and flavors from food for aquatic life and small animals by the end of 2021, except for some bird and ferret food “which will take longer to find suitable alternatives.”
Petco said the pivot is simply an extension of its long-time values. In 2014, for example, it discontinued the sale of treats made in China following consumer safety concerns, which the retailer said prompted other retailers to follow suit. And in May 2019, Petco stopped selling food and treats for dogs and cats with artificial ingredients.
Now, Petco is calling on other retailers and manufacturers to follow its lead by banning the sale of shock collars—or to apply “responsible guidelines and restrictions to the retail sale of specific shock collars” and it has created an online petition calling for responsible guidelines, including potential legislative changes. As of Oct. 7, the petition has more than 27,000 signatures.
According to social media analysis firm Brandwatch, the hashtag #StopTheShock has just 200 mentions since Sept. 1, including 156 on Oct. 6 alone. Nearly 85% of the mentions are positive, however, as consumers support the retailer’s decision to no longer sell shock collars and overall, the hashtag has more than 825,000 impressions, per Brandwatch.