Pet Store Prices and Loyalty Programs
We filled a virtual shopping basket with 10 items, including food, shelter, and accessories, and found that prices are generally lower at Petco. The bottom line for these products came to $425.44 at Petco and $461.40 at PetSmart, a difference just shy of $36. We also noted that dog training services are less costly at Petco whereas the charge for grooming a standard poodle (prices vary by breed) is more expensive (the cheaper PetSmart grooming package includes one less component).
We further determined that Petco's online platform is easier to navigate and stocked with a wider assortment of goods. Additionally, the vendor operates a more generous loyalty program. Shopper reviews, however, cast a bit of a pall on Petco's online operation, telling of problems with order fulfillment and refunds.
PetSmart, by contrast, gets the nod for extra services and customer relations. It offers veterinary care (and prepaid wellness plans), dog and cat boarding, and doggie day care at many locations. And, according to reviewers, it provides good online customer service.
Petco vs. PetSmart: Prices
For our pet stores faceoff we assembled a shopping list of 10 common pet products, including cat litter and box, dog and cat food, pet shelters (dog crate, aquarium, cage), dog leash, and toy. Prices were generally cheaper at Petco, where the total bill came to $425.44 compared with $461.40 at PetSmart. For example, all available colors of the SeaClear 20-Gallon Aquarium go for $125 at Petco while PetSmart sets prices according to color: the cobalt blue, at $145, is the cheapest and the black, at $187, the most expensive.
Price differentials don't seem to follow any pattern associated with actual product prices. We noted a $2.20 difference on 14 liters of Carefresh Basic Blend Pet Bedding -- $4.79 at Petco vs. $6.99 at PetSmart -- and a $3.73 difference on the Midwest Solution Series Side by Side Double Door SUV Dog Crate -- $140.72 at Petco vs. $136.99 at PetSmart. In all, Petco underpriced PetSmart on seven of the 10 items in our virtual shopping basket.
We priced out a couple of services, as well, and again found that Petco is often cheaper. A six-week dog training class costs $110 at Petco compared with $119 at PetSmart; the former also offers discounts for rescue dogs and runs frequent training specials. Petco's price for a private one-hour training session is $70 compared with PetSmart's fee of $89. On the other hand, the cost of grooming a standard poodle is cheaper at PetSmart -- $65 vs. $72 -- although the Petco package includes an ear cleaning.
PetSmart vs. Petco: Loyalty Programs
Both retailers offer membership-based loyalty programs. Petco's program, Petco Pals, includes a rewards card that delivers tangible benefits, specifically five "reward dollars" for every $100 spent through the website or in-store (these expire after 45 days). It also gives members exclusive discounts and preferred pricing. PetSmart's rewards program, dubbed PetPerks, provides access to in-store discounts, members-only coupons, customization options for sale alerts, and a treat on the pet's birthday.
Pet Store Reviews
While digging into the differences and similarities between Petco and PetSmart, we found few pet store reviews. Those we did come across focused on customer service, selection, and overall shopping experience.
Although Petco offers more e-commerce options and a more user-friendly website, it doesn't fare well in pet store reviews. Our research indicates that many pet owners have been disappointed with its level of service, especially online. At Site Jabber, for example, customers complain about problems with out-of-stock items, deliveries, and refunds, and one dings the store for questionable product advice from an employee. The consensus assessment is harsher at Reseller Ratings, where reviewers tell of shoddy order handling; one describes in detail how he ordered several items, paid the price, but never received anything despite numerous contacts with Petco representatives who kept offering reassurances. Other reviewers share similar stories of unfulfilled orders and battling an unresponsive bureaucracy to obtain a deserved refund.
Customer reviews for PetSmart are kinder. A mix of new and old reviews commend store cleanliness and the hassle-free online shopping experience. Shoppers who posted at Site Jabber tout the stores' broad product assortment as a positive. The only hiccup they reported encountering while shopping online is that various items are listed, accompanied by picture, price, and specifications, but available in-store only, an inconvenience that frustrates the purpose of online shopping.
Pet Stores Review: Online Platforms
As part of our pet stores review we evaluated the two chains' websites for deals, product assortment, and navigational ease. In these areas Petco.com enjoys an advantage over PetSmart.com.
Both companies have embraced a business model that involves all-the-time sales, a boon for pet owners seeking low prices on pet supplies. Petco, however, appears to be the more aggressive promoter. For example, Petco runs mega-sales such as "40 percent off pet favorites and essentials" and a summer close-out of "buy one, get one free". The site also hosts brand and pet product "spotlights" that offer additional discounts of 5 to 15 percent. And, all price cuts are deducted automatically at checkout without any discount code.
PetSmart likewise posts numerous sales, including a "fall savings sale" that promises price cuts up to 20 percent. But they seem less pervasive and qualifying for the discount requires shoppers to take an extra step by typing in a code. And, when a product is on sale, there is a good chance that the sale is exclusive, meaning available to PetSmart members only.
One money-saving resource both pet store websites offer is the local ad feature: Enter a zip code or city and ongoing sales in the nearest Petco or PetSmart brick-and-mortar store pop up (as do the services offered at each).
Our pet stores review also noted a few minor structural differences between the two sites. At Petco.com, products are categorized by pet and then subdivided by product type, and where appropriate, by animal type (e.g., for small animals and reptiles). There is also an efficient search bar for shoppers who know exactly what they want. One nifty feature is the "compare products" function that lets shoppers populate a page with up to five items whose relevant specifications are displayed side-by-side. Petco.com maintains a live-chat function for questions about products, sales, and store policies, although when we tried asking several questions the answers didn't prove particularly helpful.
The PetSmart site is less finely delineated; that is, tabs are devoted to animal categories with inside pages organized by product type but not by animal type, even for groupings like small animals and reptiles. Sale pages on the PetSmart site are divided by animal type and can be filtered by category, brand, and price. Here, too, there is a search bar for specific items. As noted above, many products displayed on the site are available for in-store purchase only. There is no online chat.
Both vendors offer free shipping. The minimum order to qualify at Petco.com is $49 compared with $60 at PetSmart.com. And finally, Petco.com lets customers buy small animals, such as fish. PetSmart.com provides only a picture and a price; animal sales are conducted exclusively in stores.
Pet Stores Comparison: Extra Services
Our pet stores comparison found that both chains offer some similar and some different in-store services. In this category, PetSmart is the clear winner given its broader range of animal-care services.
Select Petco and PetSmart locations train dogs and are active in their respective local communities hosting seminars and events. Participating Petco stores run six-week training classes geared to the age of the dog (puppy or adult) and the experience of the dog-owner duo (level 1 or level 2), as well as private sessions; a free consult with a trainer is also available. PetSmart offers four levels of training (puppy, beginner, intermediate, and advanced), each in six-week units, in addition to private sessions.
On a discussion board dating back several years, dog owners generally recommend turning to independently-owned stores for training events but note that the distraction-rich environment during the chain stores' sessions has its advantages in terms of teaching focus and discipline. Posts at Baby Center, also from a few years ago, conclude that the events are good for the basics when just beginning to train a dog. Moreover, as participants point out, events and classes are an opportunity for dogs and their owners to socialize with others of their kind.
Many Petco and PetSmart locations also house grooming salons whose services include baths, nail and paw care, spa treatments, coat treatments, and even doggy facials. PetSmart also offers grooming services for cats.
PetSmart takes in dog and cat boarders at its PetsHotel, available at many locations, where the price to board a dog, regardless of size, is $32 a night. Many PetSmart outlets also host a dog day camp that comprises mostly social play time, for about $23 daily, and doggie day boarding, comprised mostly of in-crate time for about $19 daily. By contrast, Petco's boarding services are currently limited to nine Pooch Hotel locations (mostly California) that offer daycare and boarding and include a spa center; the high-end Palace Suite goes for $100 a night.
Both vendors provide medical care for dogs and cats, but PetSmart holds the upper hand owing to its partnership with Banfield Pet Hospital, which largely operates out of PetSmart stores. These clinics offer a range of medical services and procedures, including preventive, emergency, and dental care; surgery; and ID microchipping. Pet owners can buy any of three wellness plans that cover free office visits, routine vaccinations, comprehensive exams and screening, and discounts on Banfield's other services and products; they can also be customized with additional services and wellness products. Prices vary by location and animal; for example, the recommended mid-level plan for a two-year-old mixed-breed female weighing 26-50 pounds costs $35.95 a month in the Chicago suburbs and includes semi-annual physical exams and deworming, a fecal exam, dental clean, urine and diagnostic tests, and vaccines. New subscribers must pay a one-time membership fee of $48.95, but special promotions often reduce that charge substantially.
For its part, Petco operates clinics on a rotating schedule that focus on preventive care. Services include vaccinations, microchipping, deworming, and some standard wellness tests. It also maintains a blog-like resource dubbed Wholepets that provides information about pet maintenance, particularly cats and dogs. The section is user-friendly with mini-articles that can be searched by animal type and further filtered by topic. Pet Talk Place is a community forum with discussions about animal breeds, care, and products.
Petco and PetSmart Price Comparison Table
A price comparison on 10 items available at both Petco and PetSmart finds prices to be lower on seven items at Petco. The total bill at PetSmart is $35.96 higher than at Petco.
(To our mobile visitors: This chart is too big to display properly on a small screen, so please visit Cheapism.com on your computer.)
|Item||Petco Price||PetSmart Price||Winner||Price Difference|
|Purina Tidy Cats Breathe Easy Premium Scoop for Multiple Cats (20 lbs.)||$10.99||$11.49||Petco||50 cents|
|Midwest Solution Series Side by Side Double Door SUV Dog Crate (Large)||$140.72||$136.99||PetSmart||$3.73|
|SeaClear 20-Gallon Fish Aquarium||$124.99||$144.99||Petco||$20|
|Prevue Cockatiel/Small Parrot Cage||$63.99||$79.99||Petco||$16|
|Carefresh Basic Blend Pet Bedding (14 liters)||$4.79||$6.99||Petco||$2.20|
|Kong Ball Dog Toy (Small)||$6.37||$8.99||Petco||$2.62|
|Blue Longevity Mature Dry Cat Food (5 lbs.)||$19.79||$20.99||Petco||$1.20|
|Blue Life Protection Formula Toy Breed Adult Dog Food (4 lbs.)||$17.99||$16.99||PetSmart||$1|
|Flexi Freedom Soft Grip Retractable Dog Leash (Small)||$17.59||$19.99||Petco||$2.40|
|Petmate Hooded Litter Pan||$18.22||$13.99||PetSmart||$4.23|
According the Petco reviews and our independent research, the strength of the stores and e-commerce platform lies in prices that often beat PetSmart and in the wide selection of products. Sales are constant online and free shipping is included in purchases of $49 or more. Specific brand-name and product sales are particularly helpful, yielding an extra 5-15 percent off. And a loyalty membership, Petco Pals, offers the equivalent of a 5 percent discount on purchases (must be claimed within 45 days) as well as access to exclusive deals and preferred pricing.
And yet, the few current Petco reviews posted by shoppers express dissatisfaction with online customer service. At Site Jabber and Reseller Ratings the Petco reviews report weak performance when it comes to fulfilling orders in a timely fashion or, in some cases, fulfilling them at all. One shopper says an item ordered shortly after Black Friday had not arrived two days before Christmas and another reports ordering emergency supplies and paying for next-day shipping only to receive the item three days hence. Several Petco reviews gripe about the site being out of date, with one noting that an order for a bird cage was initially accepted but a subsequent email indicated the item was on backorder and yet another weeks later said the order had been automatically canceled because the item was still not available. Reviewers also write that unfulfilled orders are difficult to cancel and refunds hard to claim. We read one post asserting that store employees are sometimes short on knowledge about the inventory.
Petco offers a smattering of services -- dog training and grooming, occasional preventive-care clinics -- at many of its brick-and-mortar stores. Six-week group training classes cost $110 and a private one-hour session costs $70 (buying a four- or six-session package reduces the per-session price); rescue dogs always qualify for a discount. Grooming fees start at $72 for a package that includes bath, hair brush and cut, nail clipping and cleaning, and ear cleaning. Vet clinics operate at select locations on a rotating basis. (The Petco website hosts an advice blog, called Wholepets, featuring articles on pet care.) Petco recently set up nine Pooch Hotels that offer doggie daycare, boarding, and a spa center. And several years ago it established a subsidiary chain of Unleashed by Petco stores that are far smaller than traditional outlets and cater only to cats and dogs.
In sum, low prices and product selection are the primary reasons to choose Petco.
The few PetSmart reviews posted online are quite upbeat about the stores, the website, the product selection and services. Our own PetSmart review found that prices, on the whole, are higher here than at Petco and the website slightly less user-friendly, but there is greater availability of veterinary and other pet-related services at brick-and-mortar locations.
In comments posted at Site Jabber pet owners commend the stores' appearance, the ability to shop with a dog in tow, the grooming services, and the array of pet treats and practical products. PetSmart reviews at Reseller Ratings comment on the timely delivery of products ordered online and the good customer service; one shopper tells of receiving a 30 percent discount on a cat tree that arrived with a broken base after a representative suggested a way to fix it after having first offered a full refund on a return. We read a few negative remarks, as well; one customer says rats purchased were unhealthy but were successfully treated by an on-site vet, another gripes that the vet suggested high-priced prescription food and dog lodgings seemed depressing, and a few express irritation that some items shown online are only available in stores.
Reviews indicate that shoppers find PetSmart prices to be reasonable, and like the competition, the chain retailer runs ongoing e-commerce sales. Many discounts are exclusive to members, however, or apply only to items purchased in-store. The site offers shoppers free shipping on orders of $60 or more. And the PetSmart loyalty program, PetPerks, entitles members to special deals and customized email alerts. Pet care guides, with information on nutrition, training, safety, and the like, are freely available on the company website.
Many PetSmart stores are one-stop shops for pet needs beyond the practical and fun necessities. These locations offer veterinary care, grooming, and dog training and lodging/daycare. PetSmart maintains a partnership with Banfield Pet Hospital, which operates more than 800 locations, the majority of which are based in PetSmart stores. Banfield vets conduct a full range of medical services, from comprehensive exams to diagnostic screenings and surgery. Dog and cat owners can purchase a wellness plan that, for a yearly fee, entitles the animal to preventive/wellness care such as routine vaccinations and free office visits; the three plan levels cover an increasing number of services and each can be customized with additional services for an extra fee. Other in-store services include grooming for both cats and dogs (bath, hair brush and comb, nail trim) - with prices dependent on breed; all-day and overnight lodging for dogs; and dog training in six-week group courses (at four levels) and/or private sessions (group classes cost $119 and private sessions are $89 for an hour, with a slightly lower rate when purchased as a block of four).
If the demand for pet-related services is a higher priority than cheap prices, PetSmart is the place to shop.