Convenience remains a linchpin of pharmacy customer satisfaction, and chain drug stores appear to be gaining ground by that metric, a study by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. reveals.


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Study: Drug chains rate highly in convenience

July 8th, 2013

NEW YORK – Convenience remains a linchpin of pharmacy customer satisfaction, and chain drug stores appear to be gaining ground by that metric, a study by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. reveals.

Overall, pharmacy customers rated convenience as an area qualifying as a best practice for the industry, according to Boehringer Ingelheim's latest Pharmacy Satisfaction Pulse survey, which polled more than 34,000 adult pharmacy customers in October and November 2012.

The good news for the chain drug sector is that more customers expressed satisfaction (94% versus 92%) with the convenience of their pharmacy, year over year, while 72% described themselves as very satisfied, up from 69% in 2011. That score trails only independent drug stores and food retailers, which provide the advantage of combining a pharmacy visit with a grocery shopping trip.

While one might expect that mail-order/online pharmacies might garner the highest rating for convenience since their patients’ prescriptions are delivered to them, in fact they rate next to last with a 89% overall satisfaction score, only managing to edge out clinics at 88%.

Unquestionably, location is an important component of convenience, and location, followed by prescription price, dominates as the main reason why customers select their pharmacy. Among all survey respondents, location was singled out as the most important selection factor by 35%, while price was designated by 29%.

For chain drug customers, though, the numbers were significantly different: No fewer than 57% selected location as the primary factor, while only 10% opted for price. By contrast, only 26% of mass merchant customers voted for location while 38% selected price as the main driver of their choice.

Wait Time for Filling Prescriptions

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Those differences almost certainly reflect important variations in store density, patients’ health insurance coverage and prescription pricing strategy across the two channels. For instance, while Walmart, Target and Kmart operate many pharmacies across the United States, the density of their locations cannot compare with the coverage of major drug chains. For instance, according to Walgreen Co., two-thirds of Americans live within three miles of a Walgreens outlet.

Moreover, although no direct relationship can be posited, it is suggestive that chain drug stores’ “very satisfied” score gained three percentage points year over year at the same time that the survey sample skewed significantly toward an older demographic. The handy proximity of chain drug stores to most of the population in this country might well be of even greater importance to older Americans.

It is tempting to hypothesize that a similar dynamic is at work with the supermarket pharmacy customers polled, of whom 43% chose location as their main reason for selection, while only 13% picked price as the deciding ­factor.

Among mass merchant pharmacy customers, convenience was less important (receiving a mean importance rating of 3.7 on a scale of zero to five, compared with 3.8 for chain drug, independent drug stores and supermarket customers), and fewer expressed satisfaction (91%) on that point. Since many customers of mass merchants have to drive a considerable distance for their shopping trips, convenience is less likely to be the major draw.

While pharmacy location is an important component of convenience, so is the ability to have prescriptions filled accurately and within a reasonable amount of time. Not surprisingly, then, wait time at the pharmacy counter correlates closely with overall satisfaction with the different pharmacy channels.

Out of Stock Medications:
What Rx Customers Did

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The median wait time across all types of pharmacy (excluding, of course, mail order/online) has been unchanged at 45 minutes over the past three years. However, the average wait varies widely from one channel to another.

The top performer, once again, was independent pharmacies, with a mean wait time of just 20 minutes. An impressive 32% of independents’ customers, moreover, reported getting their prescriptions filled within 10 minutes, a far greater percentage than any other channel.

Chain drug stores, by contrast, had a median wait time of 60 minutes, and only 11% of customers reported obtaining their scripts within 10 minutes. Customers of mass merchant and clinic pharmacies also averaged an hour wait.

Unless the pharmacy visit is integrated with a stock-up shopping trip, convenience can erode swiftly once the wait extends beyond an hour, and perhaps even beyond a day. Chain drug stores significantly underperformed independents but outperformed mass merchants and clinics and roughly equaled supermarket pharmacies.

One factor that can affect whether a script is filled the day it is requested is the medication’s availability, and the Pharmacy Satisfaction Pulse survey results show that once again it is not unusual for pharmacies to be out of stock, compelling patients to either come back or resort to another pharmacy to get their script filled.

Fully one-third of those polled reported having to return to their pharmacy, while 12% (representing a 1 percentage point improvement) went to a different pharmacy for their prescription.

Chain drug customers had little reason to be pleased with this aspect of their experience, as 35% reported returning to their pharmacy, while another 14% — the highest percentage of any channel — went to another pharmacy in order to have their script filled. Within that group, 51% went to another location of the same chain, while 49% opted for a different pharmacy operator altogether.

It is rather puzzling that 28% of clinic pharmacy patients — by far the largest percentage — had to wait more than one day to have their scripts filled, yet only 17%, the lowest percentage, reported returning to the pharmacy because the drug was out of stock, suggesting that in many cases the lengthy delay was due to reasons other than availability of the medication.

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