The Humanization Of Dogs
At RIFRUF®, we like numbers. Dog numbers, to be exact. So here's an interesting dog number for you: premium pet products will drive the growth of the U.S. pet industry to a projected ~$100B market by the end of 2020 (Source: American Pet Products Association).
Yes, you read that right. One hundred billion dollars. Or as I like to think of it as one hundred billion McChickens. And who is behind these numbers? Hint: you're reading from one.
Millennials have overtaken Generation X as the largest segment of pet owners in the United States. Booyah! Make room, Scooby Doo, because Courage the Cowardly Dog is a classic too (If you found this statement even remotely controversial, DM me - Courage is a masterpiece).
So what is it about millennials, other than the fact that they make up the majority of pet owners, that is accelerating the growth of the pet product industry?
That's not to say our best friends have never been "human"-like. And no, we are not implying that your dog is ready to take driver's ed. It's just that millennials see the "human" in their dogs even more than any other generation has before them. In a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), over 70% of millennial dog caretakers viewed their dogs as beloved members of the family.
And the humanization doesn't stop there. A similar survey on millennial pet owners conducted by Zulily, an American e-commerce company, found that:
Whoa at the last one. As a generation stereotypically known to be glued to their phones and technology, the last statistic speaks volumes. So where is this incremental surge of love for our dogs coming from? What are the reasons?
There's no definitive answer, but here's our hypothesis: the surge in dog humanization is rooted in the rise of social media and worsened socioeconomic conditions.
If we had to guess, there are at least 15 to 20 million* dog Instagram accounts, aka dogfluencers or dog influencers, in the U.S. alone (by the way, if anyone has seen a statistic on this, please share). Anecdotally speaking, the majority of millennials in my network have created an Instagram account for their dog. And it makes sense - it's a great platform to showcase highlights of your life with your pup visually, and can also be a very helpful way to live vicariously through your pet. Side note: if you do have an Instagram and/or TikTok account account, be sure to follow us at instagram.com/rifrufqueens and tiktok.com/@rifrufqueens for news on our upcoming dog shoes, dog boots, and dog sneaker drops!
*Rough math: There are about ~90 million dogs with owners in the U.S. Let's assume, conservatively, that ~50% of millennials have made an Instagram account for their dogs, while ~5% of all other generations have made an Instagram account for their dogs. 90 million dogs * (35% of pet owners being millennials * 50% Instagram accounts created) * (65% of pet owners being non-millennials * 5% Instagram accounts created) = 18.7 million accounts
Millennials are the first generation that are worse off than their parents. That means it will take longer for them to reach major milestones in life that require substantial capital, such as buying a house, getting married, and having children. Pets become a valuable proxy in light of these social "check marks" and allow millennials to be distracted from the fact that they are working longer hours for less pay. In the same survey conducted by Zulily, 82% of millennial pet owners surveyed view parenting parents as preparation for having a baby.
And it's not only the opportunity to use pets as a placeholder for children that impacts millennial life events. Pets are actually influencing millennials to drive some of their biggest purchasing decisions. Zulily's survey reports that 42% of millennial pet owners responded that their dog, or the desire to have one, would be a key buying factor in determining the type of home they would purchase.
If you've read up to this point, you may be thinking, "Okay, this is interesting information, but what's the point? Millennials are the biggest pet owner segment and they're spending lots on their dogs because the world has gotten worse. So what?"
Great questions. And it is those exact questions that lead us to where we want to go next. We don't think things are going to change in the pet world anytime soon. In fact, we think the current pet product industry is only going to get even more premium-ized. Our prediction for the next 5 years is that we will see explosive growth in the luxury pet product and designer pet product industry, more so than ever before.
Entertain the thought with us for a second. Earlier this year we experienced the worst health crisis of the last century and are still in the middle of recovering from it. While we won't use this blog to educate you on COVID-19, we do want to point out that one unintended result coming out of the pandemic is the increase in adoption of dogs by new dog owners, especially millennials.
Anecdotally we have seen dog owners spend the most on their pets in the first few years after they are adopted. And as the economy bounces back once a vaccine is found and distributed, all dogs that were adopted as puppies during the pandemic will have just reached adulthood. This peak time in new adulthood is ideal for high-end premium pet product retailers, as owners will be more comfortable in making "investment" purchases for their dogs given that they will not outgrow their dog clothes, dog shoes, harnesses, collars, or leashes anymore.
In the last few years we have seen a plethora of premium dog brands pop up. Everything from premium food dog food delivery such as www.farmersdog.com to "Everlane"-esque design-focused brands such as www.wildone.com have surfaced, and have picked up steam considerably. With social media not slowing down any time soon, an economy that's going to continue to push back marriage and family timelines, and a boost in dog adoption rates, we think the "new wave" of premium pet product brands is here to stay. So buckle up your doggy seatbelts, because we're in for a wild ride. Hopefully not in that French Bulldog's car though. Yikes.
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