When Patti Bruflodt heard that Chuck & Don's pet food and supplies store was starting a home delivery service, she wasted little time ordering two 18-pound bags of NutriSource for her 5-year-old Australian Shepherd, Annie. "We don't drive, so we really, really appreciate the service," said the Edina resident. "It should last her a couple of months."
Chuck & Don's partnered with FedEx to establish a same-day delivery program that kicked off in October. Customers in the metro call the store closest to them before 3:30 p.m., and it's delivered the same day for about $15 as long as the destination is within 15 miles of a store and the order weighs less than 50 pounds.
"Most people forget about pet food until the last minute," said John Imholte, Chuck & Don's district manager for Minnesota stores. "They don't plan to run out of food, but they do, and we can send it their home or office," he said.
Consumers have been growling for years as they lug 20- to 50-pound bags of dog food and cat litter from the retailer to their car or the bus, but, surprisingly, there's been no outcry for home delivery, said Matt Nemer, equity analyst for Wells Fargo in San Francisco. "It's an offering that people need to be told about because they're not aware of it," he said. "A pet food replenishment trip is not terribly exciting and the goods are heavy, so most people would prefer home delivery."
Demand or no, the success of pet food delivery has been spotty. The Pets.com sock puppet hawked home delivery of pet products in the late 1990s until it vanished one night during the dot-com bust. But the delivery idea didn't completely disappear. Market research firm IBISWorld considers buying pet food online a $3 billion market. Online companies such as Amazon, Chewy, Petflow, Petfooddirect and Wag offer the service. Nationwide, owners spend $21.3 billion just on pet food, according to the American Pet Product Association's survey of pet owners. That's likely to grow in the next five years as the number of pets increases 2.1 percent annually, according to IBISWorld.
Still, it's a challenging market for any company not offering free shipping. Many retailers, including Target.com and Walmart.com, already offer it for orders over $50, regardless of weight. (Target Redcard customers get free shipping on all online orders.)
Chuck & Don's customers pay about $15 for same-day service, but research shows that many consumers don't need it that quickly. Free shipping trumps fast shipping for Web shoppers, according to a Forrester Research Inc. 2014 report. Consumers in the survey cite low prices and low delivery costs as the top two reasons they'll revisit an e-retail site. The availability of fast shipping came in at No. 14 among the reasons they will revisit a site.
For customers demanding it, Target offers rush, same-day delivery for $10 in such test markets as the Twin Cities, Boston and Miami. But consumers hoping to save $5 to $15 at Target.com probably won't find the same selection. Only a handful of Chuck & Don's premium pet foods brands overlap on Target.com.
Imholte said he isn't concerned about resistance to the $15 fee yet. The company could have gone with a private delivery service, possibly for less money, but chose FedEx for security. "We want a safe, reliable person who's had a background check going to our customers' homes," he said.
A delivery fee isn't always a deal-breaker, said George John, an associate dean at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management whose specialties include supply chain, pricing and retail marketing operations. "I would not put too much emphasis on the $15 price point because they can readily change it as they learn more about customers' willingness to pay," he wrote in an e-mail. "The success or failure will depend on meeting a real customer need."
One advantage of Chuck & Don's partnership with FedEx is not having to dispose of a large box filled with packing material. FedEx picks up the food, litter and other items from the Chuck & Don's store and delivers it in its original packaging to the customer. Some customers of online pet food companies have complained that the large boxes the orders are mailed in are too large and heavy to be carried into the house.
Subscriptions, the automatic delivery of products such as pet food every 90 days or so, are not part of Chuck's delivery program yet, but it's a strong possibility. The company recently started selling a select number of gift packages online, its first foray into online sales.
Target introduced subscriptions in 2013 and expanded it last year to include pet products. Since then, it has tripled the number of pet items available by subscription to 228, but many more pet foods and cat litter can be ordered without a subscription, said spokesman Eddie Baeb.
Bruflodt is sticking with Chuck & Don's for now. "Target doesn't carry NutriSource," she said.