More retailers are welcoming dogs into their stores, but how easy and enjoyable is the experience?

Since the pandemic began, there has been a surge in pet ownership, with households buying 3.2 million pets in lockdown1 . With the increase in pet ownership, specifically dogs - where 33% of UK households are dog owners2, there has been an increase in ‘dog friendly’ shops. Notably, Wilko have been in the news recently after making 248 stores dog friendly3. Throughout lockdown, many dogs have become accustomed to being with their owners on almost a continual basis and it can be challenging for these animals to now be left alone. I wanted to see how easy it was to take my dog, Luna, shopping and overall, I was impressed with what I found.

Here’s a snapshot of each of my experiences, on the high street and beyond. Within this, it is important to remember that just like humans, dogs are all different and what works for one, may not work for another, and the experience for each customer and their pet may need to be tailored accordingly.

 Brand     Yes / No
 "Dogs welcome" signage Water bowl / treats Other dogs in store
Dobbies Yes No Yes
Hobbycraft Yes No No
John Lewis No No Yes
Pets Corner Yes Yes Yes
Waterstones No No No
Wilko Yes No No

Having researched which retailers were ‘dog friendly’, I was confident that we would be allowed to enter the store, however, I was surprised that some brands did not have signage to show this. Given that 62.5% of the shoppers we asked do not agree with pet dogs being in a retail environment, it is important to manage the expectations of all customers to avoid frustration of other customers or embarrassment if challenged4.

All stores were easy to navigate, although Waterstones’ central display areas and large wooden stairs hampered our movement a little. We were put at ease at Dobbie’s Garden Centre as many other customers had brought their dogs too, and there were other dogs present within John Lewis. In Hobbycraft, Waterstones and Wilko we didn’t encounter any other dogs – a combination perhaps of a mid-week visit and less customer awareness that all well-behaved dogs are welcome in store.

 Brand     0 - 10 scale (with 10 highest)
 Ease of movement Engagement with dog Made to feel welcome
Dobbies 10 4 8
Hobbycraft 10 2 7
John Lewis 10 9 9
Pets Corner 10 10 10
Waterstones 9 3 7
Wilko 10 0 7

The standout experience for me was at Pets Corner. The colleague proactively engaged with both myself and Luna, recognising a hesitancy and nervousness within my dog and helped to make us both feel welcome with the offer of a treat and lots of reassurance. It was great to see that Pets Corner were thinking about their four-legged customers by having a water bowl and treats freely available.

In John Lewis, the colleague was very friendly, asking questions and saying hello – again helping to put us both at ease and to normalise the experience. Although there was less canine-tailored interaction in other retailers, I was not made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable at any stage, with colleague attitudes a testament to these retailers truly being ‘dog friendly’ environments.

Better signage and some in-store pet services (e.g., water bowl / dog treats) would be a welcome addition to the overall experience and help create better awareness that pet dogs are welcome (and may be present) in store.

4 Survey of 56 shoppers carried out by ABa in March 2022

ABa is one of the UK’s leading providers of bespoke CX measurement programmes. To find out more about how we can help any organisation develop and improve their customer’s experience, contact Danielle Sones, Experience Director (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 0161 431 1221).