Pet stores make it simple to run down to the corner and grab a bag of litter or the latest dog toy. The products and services offered can vary widely, from big-box chains selling live pets to a natural foods specialist focusing on simple diets for dogs and cats. Quality can also vary widely depending on a store's policies, suppliers and management.
- Advantages: Pet stores, depending on whether they stock live animals, can offer a range of small pets from rodents to reptiles, as well as birds and fish. Many store chains have rules about quarantining new or sick animals to ensure that only healthy animals are offered for sale. Guarantees are usually offered so that buyers can bring back the animal if it becomes ill within a short time of purchase. Stores can often order sought-after species for you, cutting out the costs that could be associated with, for example, finding a breeder of a specific finch and paying for shipping to your door. Many stock informative brochures to advise owners on proper care for a new pet, and stock all of the needed supplies.
- Disadvantages: Some pet stores employ staff who aren't well schooled in the specific care of the animals. Advice to prospective pet parents can be spotty, with specialized aquarium stores or aviaries usually being the best place to find staff knowledgeable about the species. Animals may be overcrowded and ill, or in poor conditions, such as bunnies in small enclosures without hay. Though not many stores sell puppies and kittens, those that do may carry animals from poor-quality mass breeders and have pets that are less healthy and improperly socialized.
When you buy a fish or other animal from a pet store, look at the health of the others in the tank or cage before purchasing. Even if the animal you want looks well, it may soon start showing symptoms of its roommate's illness.
- Advantages: Pet stores can have deep discounts when it comes time for clearance. You can sometimes find discounts as deep or deeper than online, including seasonal price-slashings such as dog sweaters in the summertime -- which you'd get to try on your pooch instead of guessing sizes from afar. Constantly rotating stock means discontinued items will be available now and then at bare-bones costs across all departments.
- Disadvantages: Part of what you're paying at a pet store is the business overhead, from building rent to employee salaries. A pet shop's business expenses dictate what kinds of savings can be passed on to the customers. You can save by cutting out the middle man, such as buying directly from manufacturers online or in person. Pet owners needing hay for small animals such as bunnies and guinea pigs, for example, may be able to find local hay growers selling bundles at a fraction of the price of a store-bought bag. MarketWatch notes that buying pet supplies at big-box and grocery stores instead of pet shops can also save pet parents money, though pet stores argue they have knowledgeable staff and a bigger selection to compensate for higher prices.
Sign up for a store's frequent buyer card to not only get extra discounts at the register but also notification of the best sales.
- Advantages: Pet stores usually carry a wide range of products to appeal to discerning customers. Some specialize in natural products, recognizing the market that has sprung up of pet parents not wanting to feed artificial ingredients to their animals. Some keep lower-quality products on the shelves to appeal to customers simply seeking lower prices.
- Disadvantages: Quality can suffer when the focus is on quantity sales, and pet stores have faced complaints over quality before. For example, in January 2015 Petco and PetSmart pulled from their shelves rawhide and jerky treats made in China after thousands of reports of illnesses and deaths were made to the Food and Drug Administration. Be armed with the latest food recall information before shopping.
Check expiration dates on bags and cans of food before purchasing. If the sale date is near, and you can use up the food in time, you may be able to haggle a short-date discount.
- Advantages: Pet stores are within easy reach for most Americans, with large chains, family businesses and specialized outlets in most neighborhoods, as 65 percent of households now own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association. Hours usually accommodate busy pet owners who need to grab products after work. Some chains include full-service veterinarians, boarding services and grooming salons. Pets are welcome in the stores and are often given free treats. Recognizing the growing popularity of raw foods for dogs and cats, many stores have added frozen food sections to make feeding raw more convenient.
- Disadvantages: While some pet stores might offer local delivery services, you may still find yourself lugging a large bag of dog kibble up the stairs to your apartment. A growing number of online pet-supply delivery retailers have capitalized on pet owners' desire for convenience by letting customers simply click a few buttons and get needed products brought to their doorstep. Pet owners may also run out of products when shops are closed or when there isn't time to run to the store. They may find it more convenient to set up auto-ship with an online retailer.