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Painless Pet Food Shopping?

The allure of free delivery makes it tempting to abandon local stores.

I love small, local pet supplies shops. I love buying from people I get to see face to face—people who remember my pets’ names, always ask about them when they aren’t with me and offer them love and treats when they do come along for the outing.

Recently, however, online retailers are making it tougher to resist their services with speedy and cheap (sometimes even free) shipping. With a recent flare-up of lower back pain, the idea of having the huge bags and heavy cans of dog food that I buy for my two Russian wolfhounds delivered directly to my door at no extra cost seems almost too good to be true.

One might think that the cost of these supplies would be higher to compensate for all the “free” shipping offers, but a price comparison of the brands I most frequently purchase shows local shops and online retailers to be about the same for most pet related products.

When it comes to specialty items, though, online retailers do have a bit of an advantage when I consider the cost of gas and time required to drive from shop to shop looking for the specific things on my list. What might take me an afternoon of driving and shopping the old fashioned way can take just a few minutes while using up very little electricity when I shop online.

With such convenience literally at our fingertips, why would any of us continue to shop locally? In fact, I was only a little surprised the other day when one of my dog training students candidly declared herself an “Amazon mom” when I started listing local shops that sell the dog treats and puzzle toys we had been using during her lesson.

I have to admit that despite my love for small, local businesses, I already regularly shop online for some items. One long-time favorite online retailer is www.PetEdge.com (which has a warehouse in Billerica where you can pick your order up in order to avoid shipping costs.) I’ve come to rely on them for inexpensive dog toys to give as graduation presents at the end of basic dog training courses. I also shop online for products that aren’t readily available locally.

Still, I mourn the loss of some of my favorite local pet supply venues over the years—first Scottie Connection in Arlington, then Dharma Dog in Woburn and most recently, Animal Spirit in Cambridge. I can’t help but feel a little bit responsible for their plight, try as might to tell myself that this is just an inevitable part of the shopping paradigm shift that our whole society is experiencing.

As if I’m not already conflicted enough about shopping online at PetEdge and Amazon, one of my students recently introduced me to www.Wag.com, which sells nearly every pet related product you could ever want ranging from high quality pet food and treats to toys, training gadgets, grooming supplies and cleaning products. This company offers free two day (or less) shipping on orders of $49 and up, and charges only $4.99 on orders under $49.

I also recently stumbled upon an ad in a “Val Pack” for www.PetFlow.com which goes a step further by offering customers the option to order ahead but choose the delivery date as well as the option to put their order on an automatic, recurring plan, eliminating those last minute freak-outs of, “oh, no—I have to get to the pet store before closing time TONIGHT!” They also offer free two to three day shipping on orders of over $49 for free and charge only $4.95 to ship orders under that limit.

As tempting as it sounds not to have to lug heavy loads of pet food, I don’t think I’m quite ready to completely abandon the personalized shopping experience I enjoy at my favorite local pet supply stores. For that matter, the guys at Pet Source in Lexington already carry the heavy stuff to the car without being asked, so I can always shop there when my back isn’t up to the task. Having big bags and cases of food dropped off at my door really only saves me a few steps, but continuing to shop at local stores (at least for the products I need which are comparably priced and readily available) saves my conscience.

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