UK’s Pets At Home bets on digital as owners feel the pinch

By Radhika Anilkumar

(Reuters) -Britain’s Pets At Home is stepping up investment in digital services such as virtual consultations, even as some pet owners cut back spending in areas such as grooming and accessories in the cost-of-living crisis.

The company said on Thursday it would invest 400 million pounds ($505 million) over the next five years on its expansion plans, which include a “one stop shop” digital platform integrated with its products and services.

The platform will allow owners to access their pet’s history, organise virtual medical consultations, and place orders for prescriptions and food without going out.

“There is growing demand for such products and services as more people bring animals into their lives, yet cost-of-living pressures raise the risk that customers only buy what they really need and at the lowest price point possible,” analyst at AJ Bell said in a note.

Shares in the company were down as much as 4.7% in morning trade.

U.S. based pet company Petco on Wednesday indicated that customers were prioritising essentials over the nice-to-haves.

Pets At Home benefited from the surge in pet ownership during the pandemic, and CEO Lyssa McGowan told Reuters owners were still spending on their companions.

“I think what we’re seeing is the customer still wants to treat their pets and buying them a five pound or a 10 pound treat is something that they really want to do,” she said in an interview.

Pets at Home, which leads the 7.2-billion-pound UK pet care market with 24% market share, reported a 4.8% rise in underlying profit for the year ended March to 136.4 million pounds.

Revenues at its veterinary business rose 13.3% amid a record number of customers.

The company said it expected underlying profit before tax this financial year of 136 million pounds, in line with analysts’ consensus forecast.

($1 = 0.7923 pounds)

(Reporting by Radhika Anilkumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Janane Venkatrman and Mark Potter)