eCommerce success: the story of Zooplus

  • If you have pets at home, you probably know Zooplus. We analyze the story of this "beastly" eCommerce, a clear case of eCommerce success.

  • Why should Zooplus catch our attention? For several reasons, although the most obvious one is that they have managed to build an international business with a very interesting level of turnover. It competes with one of the biggest eCommerce companies in the world, Amazon in the pet category.
    Today, we are going to know the story of Zooplus and to discern the keys to its success.
  • When was Zooplus established?

  • It was 1999 when entrepreneurs based in Munich decided that the online channel for selling pet food was of interest.
    What, seen out of context, is just about exploiting another niche market, takes on a new dimension if we take into account that at that time Google was founded only a year earlier or that Amazon was still an online bookstore created in 1994.
  • INSIGHT: The idea is important, but the timing helps a lot to make it work. If you have something in your head that you think might work, do not overthink it: get started as soon as possible. Do not wait until you have everything perfectly tied up, because it is better to start now and improve "in the heat of the moment" than to let someone else get ahead of you.
  • What was Zooplus originally?

  • From its beginnings, Zooplus' approach was very similar to the current one: an online pet food and products store. They defined themselves as "a paradise for animals and their lovers" boasting, already more than 20 years ago, of having a huge assortment of products, as well as competitive prices.
  • It is important to keep in mind that, at that time, in the prehistory of eCommerce, the main purchase motivation for the user was always the price. That is why pricing was very present in their strategy.
    It is also important to note that, at least initially, the idea of internationalization must have sounded like little more than science fiction. For this reason, the company was completely focused on the German market, both in terms of communication and logistics.
  • INSIGHT:It is a bit obvious, but it is good to remember that eCommerce did not inaugurate the Internet. The main raison d'être of the net was, at that time, to share information (and kitty pictures). Before Zooplus, there were already many forums and blogs where pets were discussed at length.

    These guys saw the opportunity to sell to all that already existing community in the same channel they used to share and communicate..
  • Why products for pets?

  • If you think about it carefully, this niche meets almost all the precepts to become a success:

    • Recurrent purchase: the person who has pets needs to buy certain products on a regular basis: food, hygiene items (such as cat litter), shampoos, vitamins....
    • Impulsive or irrational purchase: another characteristic of animal lovers is that they tend to pamper them, so there is another very interesting line to exploit in toys, clothing and accessories.
    • Professional public: this is another example of the good business vision of Zooplus. From the beginning, they saw that breeders were a segment to exploit, since they have a need for a higher volume of product and their recurrence is even higher.
    • Specialization: the latter is transversal and not strictly related to the product, but the brand's specialization is always a plus in the eyes of a user who seeks the advice of a pet expert.

     Recurrence, impulse or emotional buying and specialization were three quite interesting pillars on which to build a business idea at that time. Because, remember, we are talking about 1999, a time when competition was still derisory, impossible to compare with what it is now.
  • INSIGHT: To this, we should add the convenience of buying online, which is basically convenience. When we are talking about 10 or 15 kilogram sacks of feed, having them delivered to our doorstep is an obvious competitive advantage over physical stores.
  • Zooplus evolution

  • Because they were so quickly accepted by the German public, they thought there was a good chance of taking their business model to other countries. Interestingly, the first two chosen were Austria and Spain in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
    Austria seems to be the obvious choice because of its proximity (ideal from the point of view of optimizing logistics) and also because of sharing a common language. This meant that internationalization in this country involved minimal effort.
    But why Spain before other countries? All the advantages of Austria are, in the case of Spain, disadvantages when it comes to expanding so far away. Again, we can see a strategic idea of growth in those responsible for this eCommerce. Opening up the Spanish market meant having a base from which to conquer southern Europe later on.
  • INSIGHT: Thanks to this aggressive but controlled expansion policy, today Zooplus sells in more than thirty countries, covering the whole of Europe. It has been a sustained and progressive growth.
  • Competition gets serious

     All the haste they took to grow internationally and to offer a generous range of products and services meant that they were preparing for the changing market. Surely they anticipated that the niche was interesting enough to become progressively saturated over time.
    Years passed and they remained installed as niche leaders. In fact, in 2017 they reached €1 billion in revenue; and then, as is always the case, someone is on the prowl. That someone is usually a more than usual suspect: Amazon. It was to be expected that in 2018 it would start selling pet food under its private label within the marketplace.
    What do you think happened? Well, far from having worse numbers, Zooplus' revenue increased by 21%.
  • INSIGHT: Sometimes it seems that, when Amazon sets its sights on any niche, all sellers should throw in the towel and look for something else. Reality says that this is not necessarily the case and that, thanks to specialization, we can compete even against the biggest, as has been the case with PC Componentes or Zooplus itself.
  • Zooplus eCommerce

    Let's just say that it is nothing particularly revolutionary in terms of design, but you can tell that they have prioritized the shopping experience at all times. You could almost say that it is a basic eCommerce.

    In the home page we find the classic elements:
    • A large rotating banner in which different offers and news appear.
    • Top brands, because they are especially important for its customers.
    • A horizontal carousel with more offers.
    • Dog and cat stores are also on the front page.
    • The outlet section with products that are on sale.
    • The blog, called Zooplus Magazine.
    • Previously consulted products.
    • Trust seals and frequently asked questions.
  • You can see that it could be any store, but there is something we especially like and that is that they have segmented by type of animal nearly all the web. Obviously, dogs and cats have a greater relevance because they are also those that generate more revenue, but even in the structure of the internal architecture we see how they have given space to fish, birds, rodents, reptiles and horses.
  • INSIGHT: If one of your trump cards is specialization, your online store must clearly demonstrate it. Although for this you need to have content and product to respond to public demand.
  • Product sheets also correspond to a fairly standard model, but do not let simplicity confuse you because they have some elements that are worth commenting on:

    • Photographs: well, here it depends on how "sexy" the product turns out to be, but they include quite a few images in general. Some are more inspirational and others are just of the product. They also allow customers to upload their own images in product reviews.
    • Descriptions: A small review that extends across the bottom of the tab. The text is impeccable and the tone is similar to what you would expect, somewhere between a veterinarian and an animal-loving friend. They also incorporate highlighted text with bullets and bold text that emphasizes key concepts. Great copywriting.
    • Customer reviews: social proof is essential in a product of these characteristics. It is a lot of work and stands out remarkably.
    • Volume discounts: if one of your differential values is convenience in delivery and you finish it up with price and large consumption, it seems logical to offer discounts for mass purchases. This is exactly what they do at Zooplus, as you can see in the screenshot we have selected.
  • INSIGHT: As soon as you take a closer look, interesting ideas come out behind every brand that you can apply to your business. But, in the case of Zooplus, keep in mind that they have a very long history, so everything you see is well tested.
  • Loyalty at Zooplus

  • Shopping at Zooplus means generating a balance of points that are added to your account. These are called Zoopoints, which you can exchange for prizes from the store: from snacks to toys, including accessories such as nail clippers or toothbrushes.
    A whole range of low-priced products, but which are very rewarding. We could say that they are the classic impulse purchase items, but you can get them for free if you accumulate enough credit.
    To earn Zoopoints you can limit yourself to making purchases, but there are other ways to do it, such as subscribing to newsletters. By the way: we say newsletters in plural, and it is because they have several also differentiated by animal type, so that they are much more relevant to the user.
  • INSIGHT: Loyalty points are a strategy that can help us achieve other types of conversions that boost our strategy beyond its influence on direct conversion. In the case of Zooplus, it helps them to boost the relevance and reach of their content.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility

  • From their pre-eminent position in the market, they have assumed the need to help different animal welfare organizations, and they do it in a public and collaborative way with the support of their own customers.
    Firstly, because they allow those Zoopuntos points we were talking about just now to be donated for the purchase of feed and other products that these associations need.
    They have also created a food brand called Zoolove with a solidary intention. All purchases of this line of products for dogs and cats automatically generate a donation of 10% of the amount directly to animal protection organizations.
    They also organize regular donation campaigns that work extraordinarily well. In 2021 alone they managed to donate 70 tons of material, feed, out-of-stock products and returns for the benefit of associations linked to the brand.
    Finally, direct discount of 10% for shelters and breeders is offered.
  • INSIGHT: Any business can make a contribution to Corporate Social Responsibility, but the Zooplus public is particularly sensitive to solidarity actions. That is why we think it's a good idea to involve the public in these actions by donating loyalty points.
  • Keys to Zooplus' success

    • They arrived before anyone else: it is true that 23 years ago everything was still to be explored, but Zooplus arrived at the right time. Now it is more difficult, but it is not impossible to find new niches because the market is alive.
    • Segmentation: rarely does the same product and the same communication work for everyone. That is why the way they have designed both the website and the communication strategy from Zooplus is so efficient.
    • Experts: anyone who has pets knows how complex it can be to choose a product. Thanks to their positioning as experts and the support of the community with their reviews, Zooplus makes the job easier.
    • Volume discounts: both for individuals and for associations and caregivers, they offer large-volume formats and special discounts. This attracts large buyers and raises the average retailer's ticket.
    • Ethics and solidarity: it is important to give back to the community part of what it gives you and, of course, to be able to do this publicly without being overly obvious. Zooplus works this really well and is effective even from a sustainability point of view, as it makes use of products that would otherwise go to waste.
  • What do you think of Zooplus success story? Did you know this brand? As you can see, Zooplus story is proof that a good long-term strategy usually wins the day. What has impressed you most about its path?

  • Images| Unsplash, Zooplus.

Laia Ordoñez

Laia Ordóñez is a copywriting & eCommerce content marketing expert. She is Content & Marketing Manager at DueHome, a copywriting & content independent advisor, and Oleoshop's blog's editor-in-chief.

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