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Exclusive: Pet Media Group buys Italian rival

Pets have typically been bought and sold on very basic online marketplaces. Technology could help raise the bar on welfare and security.

By Maija Palmer

Pet Media Group, the Swedish startup attempting to build Europe’s largest online marketplace for pets, added another geography to its empire with the purchase of Italy’s AnnunciAnimali.it.

Amid a year that has seen pet sales and adoptions skyrocket, the 2018-founded startup wants to turn itself into the biggest online destination for buying and selling pets — and to modernise a sector that has so far been left behind when it comes to technology.  

“The pet marketplace just hasn’t moved on with the Ubers and the Airbnbs.”

“There has been so much change everywhere else in how we might book a holiday home to buying a car, but the pet marketplace just hasn’t moved on with the Ubers and the Airbnbs,” says Eyass Shakrah, chief operating officer and cofounder or Pet Media Group.

Pet Media group already owns the UK’s largest pet classifieds site, Pets4Homes, and Hästnet, the Swedish website for buying and selling horses — and is looking to buy other similar websites across Europe and the rest of the world.

Pet Media Group websites

Pets are typically sold through sites run by hobbyists, solo operators or small teams. Pets4Homes, for example, rehomes one out of every three pets in the UK, but was previously run by a husband and wife team. Sites like this have very loyal users but there has typically not been much development of the website in the past decade or so. This creates a great opportunity for Pet Media Group to come in, buy the site, and modernise it dramatically, says Axel Lagercrantz, the company’s cofounder and CEO.

AnnunciAnimal, for example, doesn’t currently have a chat function on the site, so buyers and sellers have to carry out any discussions off the site. “That’s something that we can immediately fix,” says Lagercrantz. The Pet Media Group has a staff of 42, 22 of whom are developers, so they can tackle the technical side in a way that previous solo operator owners couldn’t.

It’s not just a case of making a slicker website. “Our mission is really to raise the bar in buying and selling pets,” says Shakrah.

In March and April alone, £282.6k was lost to puppy-related fraud.

Pet sales is still something of a wild west of licensed breeders and scammers. During the first Covid-19 lockdown in the UK last spring, as the price of puppies soared due to high demand (the average price was £1,912 as of September 2020, compared to £817 a year before), scammers were cheating would-be pet owners out of deposits for animals that simply didn’t exist. In March and April alone, £282.6k was lost to puppy-related fraud, according to buyers’ reports to Action Fraud.

By verifying pet sellers and buyers on the site, Pet Media Group is hoping to cut back on such fraud. Buyers can also pay a small fee to use an escrow service that holds the deposits and prevents them from being pocketed. Equally, sellers are vetted to make sure they meet welfare standards for the animals they sell. You are not allowed to advertise animals with cropped ears or docked tails— or to advertise one as a Christmas or Valentines gift

Lagercrantz says Pets4Homes rejects an astonishing 40% of all pet listings for reasons like this, which gives an indication of the scale of the problem.

40% of Pets4Home listings are rejected for being non-compliant in some way.

They have plans for more tech to help raise standards, including the ability to rate buyers, so that sellers too could make better decisions about who to choose to sell to. A suitability checklist could include factors such as whether the would-be owner has the right space for the pet and any experience of owning pets. Pets are a seller’s market at the moment — there are, on average, 380 interested buyers for every puppy on the Pets4Homes website — and the Pet Media Team would like for decision making to be based on more than just the highest price.

Like a lot of pet tech companies, Pet Media Group is hoping to become the primary contact point for pet owners, and to add other pet services to their offering, such as helping to find the right insurance and veterinary care.

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“At the moment we are primarily about finding your dream pet, but our plan for 2021 is to hold your hand through the whole rehoming process, helping you find out about when your pet will need vaccinations and the services and accessories you will need,” says Shakrah.

The ambition to own the customer is likely to see them a bump up against other pet tech companies, from digital vets to direct-to-home pet food vendors, all of whom are also buying to be the pet-owner’s best friend. Pet Media Group’s Swedish compatriots at FirstVet, for example, are adding a number of partnerships — such as insurance — to the offering of digital vet services.

“We are coming at it from different directions but as we both widen our services, maybe we will meet somewhere in the middle,” says Shakrah. “We’ll have to battle it out over some meatballs or something,” he adds with a laugh.

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