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Businesses may have to learn the hard way that selling frivolous pet products and services makes them vulnerable.
Many of the new offerings bring absolutely no benefit to the animal itself. Although they may give the owner a thrill, a $300 crystal necklace and $1,100 silk taffeta dress serve as little more than an annoyance to the hapless Siamese obliged to wear them. Many a dog has stood by its empty bowls, barking for more food or water, but it’s a safe bet that very few loiter inside an owner’s walk-in closet, whimpering longingly at a Kate Spade bag or Brioni suit.
If the economy stumbles—and the July 26 stock-market drop is not a good omen—middle-class folks will stop contemplating that $300 designer dog bed and pick up a $39 no-frills version, according to Jacob Jacoby, Merchants Council professor of consumer behavior at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
"Your dog can tell the difference between Eukanuba and cheaper food, but it can’t tell the difference between an expensive collar and a simple practical one," says Jacoby.
In the not-too-distant future, manufacturers may be saying goodbye to this luxe silliness and hoping their equipment is capable of producing cotton shoelaces or socks for human feet. And smaller suppliers can bid their truffle-scented cat toys farewell in anticipation of the sheriff’s sale.
The future of luxury pet products looks as steady as that of wine or cosmetics. All of these items qualify as superfluous; people could easily live without them—but they don’t want to.
According to Standard & Poor’s industry analyst Michael Souers, a recession would be more likely to cause cutbacks in expenses such as energy and home furnishings. "People are going to pamper their pets and kids, and some consider their pets children," he says.
And wherever there is quality, consumers will come, regardless of the economy. "People who are affluent tend to spend at a more even level," says Jason Asaeda, a retail analyst with S&P Equity Research. "So as long as retailers can offer unique or new products of high quality, the need will always be there."
True, a cat may find catching mice more exciting than receiving a fuchsia silk collar, but if such a purchase makes the human buyers feel more contented with, and excited about, their furry companions, so be it.
Let’s remember, many of the owners who treat their canines or felines royally actually have adopted their pets from animal shelters—a humanitarian act that’s a boon to society. If lead crystal water dishes make owners happier about having pets, maybe they’ll decide to rescue even more animals from unfortunate circumstances.
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