Pandemic Pets: Checking in on Pet Retailers

Pandemic Pets: Checking in on Pet Retailers

It seemed like everyone adopted a new furry friend to keep them company while working from home when the pandemic started. Though that’s not quite true, Shelter Animals Count, a nonprofit that tracks shelter animal statistics, estimated that there were over 26,000 more adoptions in 2020 than there were in 2019.

While this may have made every day seem like take your pet to work day, National Take Your Dog to Work Day is June 25. So, to celebrate, we turned to the Consumer Impact Dashboard to investigate foot traffic trends at pet retailers across the country and find out whether the growth in pet adoptions affected traffic at pet retailers. The dashboard uses GPS data from mobile devices to track trends in visitor volume by business category.

With the help of this tool, we compared U.S. foot traffic at five major pet retailers from January to early June of 2020 and January to early June of 2021.

Here’s what we found.

General vs. Pet Retailers

To start off, let’s compare general retailers (which includes general merchandise, warehouse clubs, and supercenters) to pet and pet supply stores. In the graphs below, the red line represents the seven-day moving average for foot traffic from January 2020 through June 14, 2020, while the green line represents the same span of time for 2021. The gray bars indicate daily foot traffic. Please note, the graphs’ y-axes are not on the same scale.

For both general retail and pet retailers, the red line representing 2020 took a sizeable dip between mid-March and the end of April, which was when most of the United States went into lockdown. Foot traffic for general retailers recovered more quickly than it did for pet retailers, possibly because consumers relied on larger retailers for more of their needs, as opposed to visiting multiple smaller stores. It was also around this time that many pet purchases moved online, as going into stores was no longer an option in many places. So, even though online pet food sales rose by 77% in March 2020 compared to March 2019, in-store foot traffic was slower to recover than general retailers.

Looking at the green line representing 2021, general retail foot traffic dropped slightly between April and May—this is in line with reports from the United States Department of Commerce that retail sales fell 1.3% over this time. In contrast, the pet retailer chart shows a small foot traffic bump beginning in early June—a boost that isn’t present in the general retailer category.

Let’s take a closer look.

June Foot Traffic Uptick

Within the pet retailer category, we looked at five specific brands—Pet Supermarket, Pet Supplies Plus, PetSmart, Petco, and Petsense. All five brands showed the June 2021 bump in foot traffic. While it’s unclear why this increase is happening, it’ll be interesting to see if it continues through the summer.

Pet Supermarket

While Pet Supermarket’s foot traffic recovered well after the early pandemic dip, overall, they had higher traffic in 2020 than they have so far in 2021.

Pet Supplies Plus

Pet Supplies Plus is the opposite of Pet Supermarket. Though their foot traffic bounced back after April 2020, 2021 is proving to have a higher volume of foot traffic compared to 2020.


For January to mid-March of both 2020 and 2021, PetSmart looks to have mostly even foot traffic trends with a higher volume in May-June of 2020. In October 2020, the private equity firm that owns PetSmart and—an online pet retailer whose sales have increased by 50% during the pandemic—announced the two companies will be splitting. It will be interesting to see how this impacts both retailers down the road.


Petco’s trends ended up being similar to PetSmart’s—roughly even until March, then higher foot traffic volume for May 2020 than May 2021. It’s worth noting that Petco went public in January 2021.


Petsense, on the other hand, had higher foot traffic volume in 2020 than they have in 2021 so far.

The Bottom Line

Foot traffic volume at pet retailers has returned to the volumes observed before the lockdowns began in March 2020. Even so, Americans spent over $103 billion on their pets in 2020 (up from $97 billion in 2019) and that number is estimated to grow to almost $110 billion in 2021, according to the American Pet Products Association.

While this number includes both in-store and online sales, it doesn’t look like consumers are going to stop spoiling their cutest coworkers any time soon.

To learn more about foot traffic trends in other industries, read our blog about grocery store visit volumes before, during, and after the pandemic.