By now, many people’s well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside, but perhaps self-improvement is overrated anyway. Maybe people should be setting their sights a little lower. Quite literally.

New year, new pooch

Now, of course, swapping a pet for a new model wouldn’t be very fair. In fact, pets are increasingly seen as part of the family. Mintel Trend “Creature Comfort” describes the new role of pet-owner-as-parent, tracking the rise of the pet’s role in family life.

Seizing the opportunity that a pet-obsessed culture has created, a number of manufacturers have brought pet activity tracking devices to market worldwide. These devices are most easily applicable to dogs and cats, as they can be easily clipped to existing collars. They typically enable owners to track where their pets are at all times and the amount of exercise they are getting, all from an insightful smartphone app.

Research in Mintel’s Pet Food UK 2016 report suggests these devices have the potential to be popular among pet owners. Almost half of those with a pet in their household say they are concerned about their pet being, or becoming, overweight, and around a third say they would consider using an app to monitor their pet’s diet (consumers across the pond seem to agree).

From dragons to behemoths

PitPat is a UK-based provider that currently focuses on activity trackers for dogs. The business was boosted with publicity from an appearance on TV programme Dragons Den last year, in which founder Andrew Nowell turned down two Dragons looking for higher stakes than he was willing to accept.

In January 2017, PitPat found two new investors in animal food and nutrition specialist Neovia and insurer RSA. As industry heavyweights, both firms have a vested interest in the appeal of these devices as well as the data they can produce. RSA owns the brand MORE TH>N, which is a leading provider of pet insurance. Data from pet tracking devices could help pet insurers to better understand the causes of diseases and ailments, which they could then feed through into a more preventative approach to pet protection. On a more basic level, these devices can help owners to locate lost pets quickly, preventing accidents and injuries while outside the owner’s supervision.

Pet insurance owners are seeking personalised support

Almost two fifths of existing pet insurance owners say that their current provider doesn’t provide guidance on caring for pets (eg via website, social media, an app or videos) but they would be interested if the provider did. Although many providers do offer this kind of content in some form, they may struggle to engage with customers on a pet-by-pet level. By contrast, an affiliation with a pet tracking app enables personalised information and support that surpasses anything an insurer could provide en masse.

The same proportion of pet insurance owners also say their current provider doesn’t offer them the option to buy non-insurance products (eg pet accessories) but they would be interested in doing so. In the (human!) private health insurance market, insurer Vitality essentially acts as a distributor of the Apple Watch device, providing it at a discounted rate to customers meeting certain fitness criteria. Pet insurers have the opportunity to follow a similar model by selling, discounting or giving away pet tracking devices in exchange for the data produced.

Not to be sniffed at or barking fad?

It remains to be seen how insurers like RSA will make their presence felt in increasing the user base for pet tracking devices. The real benefits for insurers and other companies of their scale come only when the user base is significant enough to draw commercial insight from the data.

Price has been a big factor in restricting the overall number of pet owners willing and able to take out pet insurance. Insurers will have to come up with a joint proposition between the devices and their pet insurance products that gives pet owners a good enough price incentive to get their pets on the move.

Patrick Ross is Senior Financial Services Analyst at Mintel, writing reports and analyst insights for Mintel’s UK Financial Services team. Prior to joining Mintel in 2015, Patrick worked in both the payments and insurance industries, as well as working as an analyst for a market research company.

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