Health and Wellness, Delivered

April 18, 2019
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E-Commerce

Digital Pharmacies Bring New Challenges, Opportunities to Retailers

If there’s one major advantage that brick and mortar retailers have over e-commerce sites, it’s the ability of customers to see the product in their store, ask questions from customer service, and feel more confident it’s what they want. And that’s been true for medications, since customers can meet with their local pharmacist, ask questions, and find answers.

But with e-commerce offering online pharmacies, the traditional models are changing. And that may help retailers in the long run.

Online pharmaceutical sales may offer the same advantages as when customers come into your store: if they show up for one items, they may decide to buy other goods as well. Now, if they go online to buy their medications, they may find other items on the website to order online.

But there are also challenges that online sales pose to traditional pharmaceutical chains, which retailers need to be aware of — and prepared for.

How Is Digital Changing the Pharmaceutical Industry?

The digitization of goods now includes the pharmaceutical supply chain, changing the nature of how consumers can get their medications. The core retail pharmacy model traditionally used by retailers like CVS, Walgreen’s and Walmart is getting competition from e-commerce sites working to build links to key pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The digital disruption of pharmacies is about more than just the convenience of shopping at home from your smartphone or laptop.

For consumers, the traditional patient care model is evolving. Technology gives patients new options: digital diagnostics,  remote monitoring devices and other tools that offer a diagnosis without the need for heading to a doctor’s office.  

Online pharmaceutical orders are an extension of this trend, and e-commerce sites want to convince patients to embrace the change not just for convenience, but also potential savings.

At the moment, this is still a relatively new trend. HBS Digital Initiative reports that while retail pharmacy is a $275 billion industry, only about 1% of it now comes from online sales.

But that may soon be about to change: Amazon has received a dozen wholesale pharmacy licenses from state governments, and they’re not alone.

Earlier this month, CVS announced they’ll be partnering with Shipt, a Target company, to deliver prescriptions the same day they’re filled. The service will cost $7.99 and will be available nationwide.

And, to make the path to health and wellness a more frictionless endeavor, last year CVS completed its acquisition of Aetna, America’s third largest insurer, to connect consumers with both the health resources of CVS and with Aetna’s network of providers, making it easier for consumers to access resources and services directly related to their health care.

How Can Retailers Maximize Online Pharmacy Sales?

For traditional retailers, the option of online sales is a smart way to build customer loyalty while providing value to insurers and pharma manufacturers as well.

And there are lessons to be learned from the e-commerce world. For one thing, even though patients visit stores to talk with their pharmacist about medications, far more personal and intimate discussions can be done online, giving customers a heightened sense of privacy.

It’s also a way to personalize the experience for customers. Retailers can collect online data to understand customer preferences, then use email marketing to follow up with them by offering exclusive coupons or notices of promotional sales. This is also a valuable way to introduce customers to other items that can aid in their health care, maintaining a line of communication once they’ve left the store.

The bottom line is that, while an online presence offers traditional pharmacy retailers enhanced options for maintaining and expanding the loyalty of their customer base, when it comes to health and wellness, having a human touch will continue to be an advantage.

By MICHAEL FREEMAN | Contributing Writer

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