Analyst Insight by Lee Linthicum.
Consumers are increasingly buying presents for their pets at Christmas. A closer look at some of 2011's more innovative and interesting pet gift ideas finds technology and luxury very much at the fore.
Pets get a piece of the Christmas action
According to a survey conducted by the Associated Press and Petside.com during autumn 2011, 51% of US pet owners plan to buy a Christmas present for their pet this year. Those aged under 50 were found to be the most likely gift givers, with 56% planning to purchase a Christmas present for their pets. Some 45% of gift givers were planning to buy their pet food, treats or snacks, 8% new bedding, 6% clothing, 3% a leash, collar or harness and 3% new grooming products, with some buying more than one gift.
On average, those purchasing presents for their pets intended to spend US$46, with 70% spending no more than US$30. That said, this also indicates a sizeable minority willing to spend significantly more. Those with incomes of at least US$50,000 are planning to spend US$57 on average, while those with incomes of less than US$50,000 are intending to spend an average of US$29. For Christmas 2010, the average spend was US$41.
In a recent Associated Press report, Carol Bryant, of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, described her plans for Christmas with Dexter, her 3-year-old cocker spaniel. As well as taking the dog on a couple of car trips to look at light displays (“He especially likes the animation and wags his tail,” she said), Dexter will “host” a party for other neighbourhood dogs and there will be presents both to and from him under the Christmas tree.
“It seems many pet owners have accepted that their pets are like children and they enjoy indulging their pet more than ever. It is easier for pet owners to spend on their pets than other relationships in their lives because pets have no expectations,” according to Bob Vetere, President of the American Pet Products Association.
Pet retailers are increasingly participating in the US Christmas shopping frenzy that is Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, the fourth Friday in November). For example, the PetSmart pet superstore chain opened its door at 07.00hrs on Black Friday 2011, with 50% off all dog sweaters and coats, among other price promotions.
Get a pet's eye view of the world
Many people will be getting smartphones or tablet computers for Christmas this year. But what can you buy for the pet that has everything? Well, pets can now join in the gadget fun too with such products as The Pet's Eye View camera, which retails for around US$50 in the US. It can take photos at one, five or 15-minute intervals and can hold up to 40 640×480 photos. These can then be transferred to a computer via a USB cable which is also used to charge the device. According to one online review, “Now you can confront Fido with photographic evidence when he tries to convince you it was the mailman who chewed up the sofa cushions!” One pet expert quoted by the AP suggests putting “a tiny video camera around your cat's neck and let it record some Christmas memories”.
While pictures taken by a camera can provide a dog's or cat's eye view of the world, some owners are taking the professional route and having photos of their pets taken with Santa Claus. Many of these events benefit charitable causes. In Lubbock, Texas, for example, the third annual Santa Paws event on 10 December enabled nearly 100 dogs and cats to “ask” Santa Claus to fulfil their Christmas wishes. Many pet owners dressed up their pooches to have formal portraits taken with Santa for US$1.
No more “Lassie come home”?
Perhaps a more practical application of the latest technological advances to pet care are GPS (Global Positioning System) devices that attach to collars and can be monitored by handsets, mobile phones or computers with relative ease. This could potentially provide a solution to what can be one of the biggest and most heartbreaking problems associated with pet ownership, particularly for children – pets that go missing.
For example, the Loc8tor Pet GPS “enables you to keep track of your pet's exact location wherever they are, using your computer or your mobile phone. This GPS device will give an owner peace of mind should your pet ever go missing, and it also provides a pet with the freedom to exercise safely if they are not around,” according to the manufacturer. The device provides something close to real-time tracking as it can report as frequently as every five seconds. Users can also establish a “safe zone” so as soon as their pet wanders too far, they will immediately be alerted.
Designer cat bedding
Bedding is another popular Christmas gift for pets. For cat owners looking to splash out on a designer item, the work of Akemi Tanaka, a New York-based industrial designer who usually sticks to designing for people rather than pets, is worth checking out. Tanaka's cat bed, which can also easily be enjoyed as a lounging area, is not your typical cat bed. It is essentially a gently sloping piece of wood cut into the shape of a semi-circle. A padded bed, covered in sleek upholstery, snaps on and off from the Curve. Costing around US$200, it is designed to be mounted on the wall, enabling a cat (or a small dog) to survey a room from above.
According to the designer, her own experience of searching for the perfect cat bed inspired her to make her own for her three cats. “At the time, we were moving to a new apartment with nice furniture and I couldn't really find any bed that fit my taste aesthetically and also met the needs of my cats,” she said. According to Tanaka's website, “You know that if you're a design-conscious sort of person that your cat is one too! Your cat isn't a person, but there's certain things your cat will work with as well as things it simply won't… You don't go to the pet store to buy a pet bed, you go to the design store!
Spare a thought for the needy
Finally, it is worth remembering that recent years have seen a surge in both the number of abandoned pets and the number of owners struggling to feed and care for their pets. Rather than providing their well-fed and pampered pet with yet another toy or item of clothing this Christmas, some owners will instead opt to donate pet food and pet care products to their local food bank, animal shelter or animal welfare charity, many of which are organising Christmas pet food drives.