Big Box Stores are Replacing Their Electronics Section with… Animal Appliances and Pet Necessities?

With inflation at a near 50-year high, it seems like our pets are still living like royalty. Has America's obsession with pets gone too far?
America's obsession with pets

Recently I visited a Big Box store that had undergone an extensive renovation, mostly for organization purposes to better the store flow, but there were interesting changes. The one that really caught my eye was the pet section. This store moved and shrunk its once-massive TV and electronics section and replaced it with a huge, mind-boggling area dedicated to pets in general, cats and especially dogs in particular. Along the back wall, for about 100 feet and 6 feet high, was nothing but cat litter. Cat litter! This store now has more space dedicated to the bodily functions of cats than to produce or even liquor. You know the world is way out of whack when there’s more store shelf space for cat litter than beer and wine.   

This isn’t surprising, really. I’m not the first person to point out that the American obsession with pets is way over the top. According to pet industry research and surveys, in 2021 Americans spent upwards of $124 billion on all things related to cats and dogs, and that’s something like 2.5 times the $45.5 billion tally for such spending in 2010, and up more than $30 billion a year just since 2018. And just so you know, over $5 billion of pet spending globally in 2021 was for pet apparel, and apparently Americans spend some $2.1 billion a year buying pets Valentine’s Day presents, so yeah, something’s out of whack.  

It’s not that I don’t like cats and dogs – I’ve had many dogs in my life, I currently have two cats and, yes, I love(d) ’em like family. But I’m not nuts. I don’t take them to restaurants or fly with them for emotional support, and I certainly don’t own a cat wardrobe.  

One of the largest areas of the overall pet spending number is, of course, pet food, and that market has been overrun with the popularity of premium, super-premium and ultra-premium pet foods – now about 41% of the pet food market. In an online search for this topic, I read an article from a couple of veterinarians who pointed out that there are no standards for what constitutes “premium” in pet foods, and no real evidence that premium is any better for a dog or cat than regular pet food. Like with everything else, such as liquor or cell service, the word “premium” and the higher price are all that people need to truly believe it is better, even if it is not.  

Since two out of every three households in the U.S. have pets, obviously many of us know a lot of people who have pets. Most of those people are just regular pet owners who have a family dog or companion cat and it’s no big deal for them or their friends. But also many of us know people who have three dogs, or four cats, people who dress them up and carry them around in purses or backpacks, and often cancel or delay social events and travel because their dog has anxiety or their cat has a spa day scheduled.  

What really got me thinking about all of this was that Big Box store remodel and its huge pet department filled with all manner of unnecessary toys and clothes – even jewelry – for pets at a time when the country and the world are experiencing the worst inflation in 40 years and many, many people are making difficult choices about food and rent and bills. But apparently Fluffy and Rover still get what they need.

READ — Finding the Silver Lining Amidst Rising Interest and Inflation Rates  

In spite of my pet peeve that this (human) behavior is out of whack, there may be opportunity in all of this. I came across someone recently who is pet sitting, dog walking and part-time pet boarding — think daycare for pets of people working from home who feel they are neglecting their (pandemic) animal buddies. This is, apparently, a surprisingly lucrative endeavor, like $150 bucks for an overnight, and $20 to $40 an hour for daytime activities. Why? Because all of the already expensive doggie daycare facilities and pet boarding operations are so crowded it’s difficult to get in. It’s worse than finding actual childcare — and now just as costly.   

As I said, the pet obsession is out of whack.  

 

Jeff RundlesJeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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