“A lot of people see us as a pet shop, and as a retailer, but we see ourselves as a petcare provider, recognising the pet as a beloved part of the family. We aim to offer a wealth of products and services over the pet ecosystem. I don’t measure success in terms of the number of data scientists I have or the number of algorithms we are using or how much data we’ve got stored in the cloud. It is all about the difference we make to the pet owner” - Robert Kent, Pets at Home
During the coronavirus pandemic, pet ownership has risen dramatically as people isolated in lockdown sought companion animals. One of the places that has measured this rise has been Pets At Home, the Cheshire-based pet supplier who has been using data analytics in ways it never has before.
In April 2020, the new data team ran some research to find out what was happening in the Pets at Home customer base as a result of COVID-19. It discovered that some 90% of customers would cut back on other family expenditure before reducing what they spend on their pets. This was the start of their new data journey.
The move towards expanding the use of datahas been spearheaded by chief data officer (CDO) Robert Kent. Having spent over a decade as CDO of Royal Mail, Kent joined Pets At Home in 2018 tasked with developing a strategy to make data analytics better serve their customers. The Very Important Pets (VIP) project has been in development ever since utilising data stretching back around seven years and including six million customers who have shopped at one of their 451 stores nationwide.
The business identified there was more that could be done in terms of cross-selling and up-selling, with their suite of services including online advice, grooming and vet groups. By putting all of their customer data from retail and loyalty programmes onto the Google Cloud and using it to develop insights through customer segmentation and behaviours, the business aims to improve their service offering and make Pets At Home the ‘one-stop-shop’ for all pet needs. Kent’s team also uses Tableau for visualisation, Salesforce for CRM, and its own coded algorithms.
The strategy has involved procuring technology, instilling a culture of data literacy and advocacy. This will allow employees to understand how data analysis can be used to improve commercial performance. Kent has built a 50-strong data team consisting of specialists in data privacy, data visualisation, data science and customer relationship management, many of which work remotely.
With the number of VIP Puppy and Kitten Club members growing 12.0% in the first quarter of the company's 2020-21 fiscal year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the team began to look at ways in which this information could be harnessed, as Kent says:
“We looked to figure out what products and services we could push out to customers who were moving online. We looked at ‘deliver to [vehicle] boot’ so customers didn’t have to come into the store. We also found customers who may have stockpiled before lockdown to help them to come back.”
Identifying customers with a vet plan who could not come into the practice was straightforward for the team. Looking at patterns of data to identify when customers who had stockpiled would run out of provisions, or whose pet food was out of date, or who were likely to churn as customers, entailed more sophisticated data science.
The team has ambitions to use machine learning to refine some of its internal processes, especially in the supply chain.
Dan Holden, Data & Analytics Recruitment Consultant at The Bridge, said:
“This is a great example of a business exploring what other products and services they can offer their consumers and then drive this through Analytics. By adopting the VIP scheme they are then creating a system to gain good quality data which they can then use to predict consumer behaviour. AI and Machine Learning is still in its infancy across a number of organisations and SME’s. However key decision-makers can look to Pets At Home for a blueprint of how to utilise Analytics in their business going forward”