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There’s a new dog at work in the mail-order pet food business, and his name is Mr. Chewy.

The House of Two Bows was recently invited to explore some previously uncharted territory: the world of mail-order dog food, courtesy of Mr. Chewy.

We’ve never considered dog food delivery before because frankly, pets here need not look very far to find top-notch goods. If you’re offering canine-related products or services out here, you’re going to face a lot of competition.

However, since I have a goal to spend more efficiently on the pets this year, major purchases from online retailers is an option when they can offer significant discounts. I’m also exploring possibilities for my partner, who doesn’t drive, but may need to restock the Bows’ supplies if I am out of town for extended periods.

So shopping with the primary concerns of cost effectiveness, convenience, and quality of products and selection we gave Mr. Chewy a try. I browsed their website using their Shop By All Brands menu and quickly came up with the $49 or more worth of products that I needed to purchase to qualify for free shipping (if this minimum is not met, shipping is a flat rate of $4.95).

One of the first things I noticed about the site is its ease of use and the range of brands, from Purina and Science Diet to Stella & Chewy’s, Ziwipeak, and The Honest Kitchen (filed under “T” for some reason — I almost missed it!). Since I typically shop by brand, this system comes intuitively to me. You can further narrow your choices by food type (dry, canned, dehydrated, food rolls) and even specialty diets (alkaline based, gluten free, grain free, etc.). Full ingredients lists are accessible with a simple click on a product description tab (note: I prefer to know Country of Origin for all edible items, not just chicken jerky made in China). They’re even building a database of customer reviews for additional feedback.

For this review, we purchased the following:

  • The Honest Kitchen EMBARK dehydrated dog food, 4 lb., $42.99
  • Zukes Salmon Mini Naturals, 1 lb., $9.99
  • Zukes Peanut Butter & Blueberry Mini Bakes, 16 oz., $5.99

TOTAL: $58.97* (free shipping included!)

The Zukes products are about the same price as I can pick up at my local stores, but the Honest Kitchen box was significantly less than local retail cost, and even slightly less than what the company website offers online. That cha-ching! you hear is the sound of us pouncing on a great deal.

… but wait! I forgot to punch in the promo code provided by my Mr. Chewy’s contact so that I could redeem my discount in exchange for writing this review! So on a whim, I clicked the “Questions? CHAT LIVE!” button in the upper right-hand corner of my screen. Now, considering that I had placed my order at roughly 11:30 PM Pacific Time, and the company is based in Miami, Florida, I had no idea if I was going to get any response. To my shock, I soon found myself chatting with an actual “Liveperson.”

He helped me get squared away immediately, and my order was processed within a day. Shipping from their Pennsylvania warehouse, however, took a bit longer. I got my shipping notification on Tuesday, February 7th. It took one week for the big box of goodies to arrive via FedEx in California. This is reasonable for [free] ground shipping across the country, but time is definitely something that we’ll have to manage if this is to become regular practice.

14 February 2012. The Bows got a ‘valentine’!

The box was large and packaged quite securely. Each item arrived in perfect condition. I checked out the expiration dates as well, and everything had a very recent manufacture date or distant expiration date. So items appear to be as fresh as anything I would pick up in one of our well-trafficked local pet stores.

Quality control inspections courtesy of Bowdu

At any rate, you should have no worries if you’re dissatisfied. Mr. Chewy offers a 100% unconditional satisfaction guarantee for up to one year after the purchase date, provided the item is not used or expired, and is returned to them as they sent it to you.

I also took note of the ways that they are inviting new customers to save money. For example, if you use the House of Two Bows’ referral code, MENG881, you’ll get 10% off your first order, AND Mr. Chewy will donate $10 to Best Friends Animal Society (Kenab, UT), Bideawee (Long Island, NY), and/or North Shore Animal League (Port Washington, NY). I’m happy to help readers save some money, and it’s a nice gesture that they’re offering to pay it forward, as it were, to animal welfare groups — though I wonder if Mr. Chewy might consider opening the recipient pool to include smaller, less visible organizations in the future.

For subscription/scheduled deliveries, customers can save 15% (up to $15) off the first scheduled delivery for the item of their choice. 15% is usually the magical number for me to consider purchasing from an online versus local source. As a careful and sometimes old-fashioned consumer, I find it gratifying to know that my purchases are going towards people I know and trust to make my lived community a better place. In my opinion, “No more trips to the pet store,” one of their selling points, is not necessarily a good thing.

This brings me to my biggest hesitation in giving Mr. Chewy my highest overall grade. Despite their friendly service and abundant stock, there are still a few things that they don’t do for me. They tell me they’re not a “big, corporate, profit-driven pet retailer,” that they’re “just an average dog with big dreams.” But that tells me nothing. They’re not very forthcoming with identifying company details on their page, and I’m afraid I’m not one to be instantly charmed by anthropomorphized cartoon dogs.

Or purposefully cartoonized “real” dogs, for that matter. Mr. Chewy proclaims a noble and ambitious mission “to ensur[e] at-risk animals’ lives are improved across the planet,” and they do this in part through their referral-donation program and encouraging rescue and adoption on Facebook. However, I’m a bit creeped out by the abundance of gratuitous neoteny all over their Facebook wall. The photo above was posted with the caption “Help us Save as many Animals as possible. Check out our donation program and SHARE this.” Yet these are the same type of garish images deployed by unscrupulous breeders to drum up sales of pathetically-bred “teacups,” and I find it distasteful that the sharing of such viral images would be encouraged in the name of “saving animals.”

So is it any crime that we don’t share similar aesthetics of cute? Maybe I just read more into images than the average consumer (which, presumably, is evident to regular readers of this blog). Given my somewhat idiosyncratic concerns, I’m not going to factor this into my final grade.

What I’d like to see is real dogs, real people, and a more detailed corporate profile so I know just whom I’m supporting. Without these things, I still prefer my locally-owned pet boutiques, or even the local chain (which happens to offer some really competitive deals that give most online pet food companies a run for their money). Like I said, competition out here is pretty stiff.

That said, Mr. Chewy sure seems to have its act together, and they have great potential to grow. There remains room to branch out in several product categories, like dental chews (for example, Zukes Z-Bones were only available in carrot flavor, size large; this category of treats was dominated by Greenies), and maybe some common dietary supplements like glucosamine/chondroitin, fish oil, digestives and pre/probiotics. They’re winning over thousands of customers with their customer service, which definitely sets them apart from the crowd of mail order companies. But just as I can’t give every nice student in my classes an A+, I can only grade Mr. Chewy on what they’ve presented to me thus far.

Mr. Chewy’s scorecard is as follows:

Cost effectiveness: B+/A- A few deals to be found, but prices are mostly slightly less or equal to local stores — though we don’t have to pay for tax or gas by shopping online, so they’re still cheaper. Extra credit is given for the abundance of promotional deals.
Convenience: A- What could be easier than ordering from your own home? Website also very easy to navigate. However, shipping time for me was a bit of a drag, as it may be for you based on location.
Quality of products: A Everything was fresh and great!
Selection: B+ Wide range of brands, products for cats and dogs, but still lacking in some essential product categories that prevents them from being my one-stop shop.
Customer Service: A Phone, chat, and e-mail options makes this as close to in-person shopping as you can get.

Final grade: A-

* Note and disclaimer: The actual price paid for our order was $8.97, as Mr. Chewy generously offered The House of Two Bows a $50 coupon in exchange for an “honest review”. We were free to order anything we pleased. Images of company characters were provided by Mr. Chewy’s marketing liaison. No other compensation was received for this review.