Ideas to Help Practices Thrive in the Face of UVSA Survey Findings

UVCA Consumer Survey – A Focus on Veterinary Clinics

Image of person taking a print survey.

Last year, the American Veterinary Distributors Association (AVDA) — which has become the United Veterinary Services Association (UVSA) — gathered with key animal health industry stakeholders to discuss its future direction to stay relevant to its members. At that time, the UVSA reinforced its promise to design programs and services that will help distributors, manufacturers, and suppliers remain relevant in the veterinary supply chain.

Soon after, the UVSA embarked on a targeted research project to help understand consumer expectations regarding veterinary services.

To that end — in a press release issued on April 3, 2019 — the UVSA stated that it’s funding three surveys this year from Packaged Facts, focusing on consumer expectations related to the purchase of veterinary services and products.* The results of the first survey conducted in December were shared at VMX 2019 and during a UVSA member webinar in early April.

In case you missed the presentations, we’ve selected survey findings that relate directly to pet owner perceptions and preferences about veterinary care. You may want to share the following findings with your customers.

First, the selected survey findings, straight from the UVSA press release:

Among dog and cat owners who use veterinary services, four‐fifths go to a traditional local, independent vet.”

That seems like a decent number… perhaps not a threat at all.

But consider these findings:

“The remainder use alternatives including chain veterinarians, mobile or pop‐up clinics, and holistic veterinary practices — and these less traditional veterinary practice types, settings, and formats are expected to grow in popularity and market share.

In this vein, the current UVSA survey shows a third (34%) of pet owners strongly agreeing and another third (34%) somewhat agreeing that they like the idea of veterinary services being located at specialty pet stores such as PetSmart or Petco. Pet owners are somewhat less receptive to the idea of veterinary services located at general retailers such as Walmart, but even here the tilt is toward receptiveness.”  Maybe turn that into a chart? I roughed it out:

Let’s stop here for a moment. The survey clearly indicates that there’s pet-owner interest in using other care providers and migrating away from traditional local, independent practices.

What does that mean to your customers?

To help your customers compete against a migration… you can use this information to educate them and help them develop proactive strategies.

For example, the next time you stop in at a practice, ask the team:

“What do you offer that specialty stores can’t offer?


“Are your clients aware of these differences? Do they truly know the value of having a single veterinary team who delivers every aspect of care? (Versus vaccines in the stores and other care at the practice.)”

Help the practice look at their scope of services and perhaps offering a loyalty program so clients are less likely to cherry pick services elsewhere. In other words, helps the practice make it worth the client’s while to stay loyal.

Check to see if the practice is offering affordable wellness plans, incentives to schedule regular visits and buy products from the practice, and so forth. And, help the practice take another look at price and profit margin… considering adjustments to keep clients from simply jumping because of price.

The survey findings support this effort:

“The percentage of pet owners turning to alternative veterinary practices such as chain store or mobile notches higher among those who are price conscious. For example, among a sample of nearly 300 dog owners who opted for a chain veterinarian, half (49%) indicated that price definitely is a factor in which vet they go to, and another fourth (28%) that price is somewhat a factor.

Even so, among dog as well as cat owners, convenience outranks price as a factor in choosing which type of veterinary clinic to go do. While the price of veterinary services is definitely a consideration among 27% of dog owners overall and 29% of cat owners, convenience is definitely a consideration among 56% of dog owners and 46% of cat owners.

Other than the location of veterinary practices, the top convenience factors among dog owners are ease of contacting the vet by phone, weekend hours, and the availability of affordable pet medications.”

OK, there’s another point that may cause clients to migrate from your customers. You may ask the practice about its hours, client communication methods, and making sure pet owners know the practice is still an incredible value when you consider the “whole aspect” of care.

And what about medications, specifically? The survey findings noted,

“Pet medications have emerged as a flashpoint in the competition for pet care dollars and customer loyalty among veterinarians, pet specialty and Internet retailers, and the Internet. The current UVSA survey shows 60% of pet owners strongly or somewhat agreeing that they use the Internet for price shopping and finding the best deals for pet products, as do 52% of pet owners in the case of flea and tick medications — long a mainstay of veterinary channel sales and profits. Correspondingly, 48% percent of pet owners strongly or somewhat agree that they are buying pet products online more than they used to, compared with 35% strongly or somewhat disagreeing.

The migration of pet product and pet medication sales to e-commerce has been substantial but somewhat fragmented. By percentage draw among pet owners overall (not restricted to those who buy pet products online), the leaders are: Amazon (at 22% for the main website, 13% for third‐party vendors); pet specialty website (20%), acquired by PetSmart; Walmart (at 16%, excluding Sam’s Club); and the eponymous websites of pet specialty chains such as PetSmart or Petco (13%).

As with the choice of the type of veterinarian, price and convenience play roles in the decision to buy pet medications online, rather than through the veterinary channel.”

The medication story continues to evolve to the Internet, but many practices are finding a way to keep client purchases in-house. Are the practices in your territory using online and home-delivery services to make it more convenient — and more affordable — for pet owners? If not, try to find out why… and see if they’d be open to adding this service to compete.

Finally, the survey noted this very good news for practices:

“Pet owners are overwhelmingly satisfied with the quality of medical care they receive at their veterinarian: among dog as well as cat owners, 95%‐96% report being ‘highly satisfied’ with the quality of medical care their pets receive at regular checkups or for urgent/emergency care visits.

When it comes to the cost of the medical care received, perceptions are still positive but not as universally so: among dog and cat owners, 76%‐80% report being ‘highly satisfied’ with the cost of medical care for regular checkups or urgent/emergency pet care visits.”

With this high rate of client satisfaction, independent practices are in an excellent position to create a strategy for loyalty and keeping all aspects of care in-house. Maybe they just need a nudge from you. Keeping in mind that most of your customers are busy caring for pets… you may be the conduit to stepping back and making big changes to keep clients from migrating.

Now the question is — what’s your plan to help customers stay strong and thrive in the face of these survey findings?

There will be two more UVSA surveys in 2019 related to pet nutrition and to prescription vs. non‐prescription pet medications. Next up is survey #2, which should be quite interesting.

Are you attending the UVSA Conference in Nashville, May 5-7? Be sure to watch for news about the second survey, which will be shared at the conference. If not, you’ll hear about the second survey as the findings are made public. Visit the UVSA website for more information about its mission.

* These surveys are being supported by sponsorship from UVSA members MWI Animal Health, Covetrus, Boehringer Ingelheim, Vet‐Advantage Magazine/NAVC and Animalytix.