Is a Pet in Your Shop Driving Away Customers?

A cat in the window or a dog behind the counter may be a turn-off — or a reason shoppers are coming in.
Chris and Natasha Ashton, co-CEOs of a pet insurance company, ask business owners to know the risks of allowing a pet around customers. (Photo: Chris and Natasha Ashton)

If you’re a pet owner, chances are Fido or Fluffy spends long hours at home without you — unless yours is one of those retail shops with a sleepy cat curled up in a window or a canine lounging near the register.

If it is, what affect is your pet having on foot traffic and sales?

On the one hand, customers themselves are toting their pets into commerce establishments more and more, and oftentimes, other shoppers don’t even bat an eye. Yet not every consumer is an animal lover, and parents shopping with children may worry about interaction with a store pet. For the shop owner, a dog barking at customers or a cat tripping up browsing patrons is a valid concern.

According to one customer service and customer experience expert, however, the pluses of a store pet may outweigh the minuses.

“We are all getting used to seeing animals in retail spaces, and many retailers are embracing it as long as there is no distraction,” said Shep Hyken, author of several books including “Amaze Every Customer Every Time.”

Your pet may even be a draw.

“The ‘turn-off’ factor is much, much smaller than retailers realize,” Hyken said.

“Many consumers today think having a pet in the store is a ‘cool,’ factor and it may be a prime reason they shop there versus a similar retailer who isn’t so pet loving.”

The key is to make sure the store environment is welcoming and enjoyable for both the pet and your customers.

“Bringing your best friend to work has so many benefits, and with a little preparation and mindfulness, it can be a wonderful way to celebrate our relationship with our pets, for store owners and their customers,” said Natasha Ashton, co-CEO of Petplan, a pet insurance provider based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

Ask yourself — and answer honestly — whether your pet draws in strangers or scares them away. If your pooch barks incessantly, your bird chirps loudly all day or your cat is prone to hissing or pouncing, it’s not a good fit for your store.

But if Buddy behaves well and Tigger is content to lounge unobtrusively, go for it.

“Small pets are obviously a bit easier to manage, but any pet can be an excellent ambassador for your business as long as they’ve got the temperament for four-legged ‘customer service,’” Ashton said.


(Photo: Mike Brake/Shutterstock)

If you bring in your pet

To help ensure good pet behavior, make sure your furry friend has what he needs for his well-being.

“Designate a particular area as your pet’s safe place where he can retreat if greeting customers gets overwhelming,” Ashton advised. Toys can keep pets occupied and will let a pet exert mental energy, which can help keep behavior in line, she noted.

And don’t forget exercise. “Even a dog in a busy shop needs regular exercise, so you need a plan to make sure that happens. Socialization is great, but nothing can replace exercise in keeping your pet happy and healthy.”

Whether you have a store pet or you allow pets into your store, you may want to take some pet-related precautions.

Petplan’s office has areas designed for the safety and comfort of pets, and it features dark carpeting with removable tiles in case of accidents. “It’s definitely been a lifesaver on more than one occasion,” said Ashton.

Keep an eye out for unwanted encounters between customers’ pets and yours. “All of these pets in a small space can spell trouble if you’re not mindful of everyone’s comfort level,” Ashton said.

She recommended store owners and shoppers introduce pets to each other on a leash basis. And keep visiting pets away from your pet’s space to avoid squabbles and aggressive activity.

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