Amazon Explores Veterinary Telehealth to Compete with Walmart

Amazon is reportedly considering a foray into veterinary telehealth as part of its ongoing efforts to compete with Walmart. While the e-commerce giant has already made strides in the human health sector through its acquisition of One Medical, it has not yet fully invested in pet health. This potential expansion into veterinary telehealth could drive growth in the lucrative $137 billion pet market, an area that Walmart has already ventured into by offering the service to its Walmart+ subscribers.

Veterinary telehealth, similar to human telemedicine, enables pet owners to have virtual appointments with veterinarians and veterinary technicians. Earlier this year, Walmart partnered with veterinary telehealth provider Pawp and offered free access to the startup’s membership for a year to Walmart+ subscribers. As the offering is set to expire just before the pet holiday shopping season, Amazon may consider partnering with Pawp or other pet telehealth startups to launch a similar service. Alternatively, Amazon could choose to build its own telehealth practice, as Chewy did during the Covid pandemic.

As the pet market becomes increasingly competitive, major retailers such as Chewy, Walmart, and Petco are expanding their offerings to remain competitive and capture greater market share. The U.S. pet market is expected to reach $200 billion by the end of the decade, with pet health care driving this growth. Chewy has been focusing on developing its pet prescription, insurance, and telehealth offerings, while Petco has leveraged its brick-and-mortar footprint to establish clinics and grooming centers, positioning itself as a leading veterinary provider.

If Amazon decides to pursue a pet telehealth program, it may follow a similar model to Walmart and offer the service through its Amazon Prime subscription. Both Amazon Prime and Walmart+ emphasize unlimited free deliveries as their core value proposition, but they also provide additional perks to attract subscribers and enhance competitiveness. For instance, Amazon Prime offers GrubHub+ and Walmart+ recently added Pawp to differentiate their subscription services.

Telehealth in the veterinary industry emerged out of necessity during the pandemic, providing a convenient alternative to in-person visits. However, some veterinarians express concerns about the potential risks for pets. Dr. Lori Teller, a former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, acknowledges the benefits of pet telehealth for general advice and triage services, particularly during after-hours or busy periods. However, she highlights the risks of delayed treatment or misdiagnosis when companies prioritize product sales over the animal’s best interests.

The expansion of pet telehealth is hindered by a complex web of state and federal laws governing the practice and what veterinarians can do without meeting the animal in person. This has led to a growing lobbying movement aimed at modifying regulations. Notably, industry giants like Chewy and Mars Veterinary Health have supported these lobbying efforts financially. Amazon seems poised to join this movement, with reports indicating that the company has spent approximately $430,000 on lobbying efforts related to digital health oversight, telemedicine, and FDA regulations.

As Amazon aims to compete with Walmart in the pet market, the potential expansion into veterinary telehealth presents a significant opportunity. With the sector expected to grow to $200 billion by the end of the decade, incorporating telehealth services aligns with the industry’s evolving demands. However, Amazon must address the challenges associated with pet telehealth, including navigating complex regulations and ensuring the provision of high-quality care. By leveraging its existing infrastructure and strategic partnerships, Amazon could establish itself as a major player in the pet health space, further diversifying its business portfolio.

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