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A digital storefront can maintain ties to shoppers

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Amid COVID-19, homebound consumers turned to digital health services, apps and wearables to replace the pharmacies, gyms or doctor’s visits they’d normally go to pre-pandemic. As a result, consumer behaviors have been rewritten, causing nearly every industry to reevaluate how they do business. For drug stores, this means adopting a digital storefront, where they can offer a number of services, such as consultations or e-commerce options to continue reaching their shoppers.

Dara St. Louis

A recent study we conducted at Reach3 Insights reveals how drug stores can be at the forefront of the digital heath craze. Using our conversational, mobile messaging-based tech and approach — a methodology that lets us engage with a diverse group of consumers through their mobile phone in real time — we engaged more than 500 U.S.-based consumers to understand the evolving role of digital storefronts in peoples’ lives.

The digital health craze is a significant trend that drug stores can no longer ignore. In our study, 24% reported using at least one fitness app, while 35% confirmed an interest in using them in the future. Similarly, 11% of consumers reported using dieting apps, with an additional 32% expressing an interest in using a dieting app in the future. As our findings below show, capturing insights on evolving consumer behaviors and preferences will be key as health and wellness continues to go digital.

Harness the power of mobile apps

With consumers moving to the world of online shopping, drug stores need to capitalize on the relevance of these apps both during COVID-19 and in a post-pandemic world. In doing so, they’ll not only gain access to current and new customers but also have a golden opportunity to gather richer, in-the-moment insights into their consumer base. In a market like health care that naturally requires heavy amounts of personalization, partnering with related apps such as fitness and dieting is the next logical step. Here, drug store chains can gain deeper insights into their customer base while using that data to recommend supplements or products that align with consumers’ fitness or nutrition goals. For example, CVS can partner with Weight Watchers to provide a link where app users can purchase recommended products directly through their profile while receiving exclusive discounts.

However, moving past the initial concept, it isn’t enough anymore for a shop to be accessible online: What about the customer’s voice? In order to get insightful, authentic feedback that can be used to drive business decisions, companies need to offer an opportunity for two-way conversations. One of the most successful methods for achieving this is for drug stores to optimize their own app to offer these same services without relying on partnerships. Although the undertaking would prove costly in the beginning, the benefits are undeniable:

Keep customers within your own ecosystem for a consistent messaging, branding and buyer journey.

Have direct access to the consumer’s behaviors and preferences for more insightful business decisions.

Offer virtual pharmacist consultation services to reach a higher number of touchpoints in the patient’s care cycle

Offer more digital health products

As alluded to above, another avenue that industry experts are recommending that drug stores should invest in is offering more digital health products in their online stores. Our chat found several opportunities that directly support this idea:

27% of consumers love home medical exam devices, while an additional 47% think they’re OK.

36% of consumers love self-cleaning water bottles, and an additional 40% say they’re OK.

36% of consumers love health-oriented smartwatches, while an additional 43% say they’re OK.

With larger department stores seeing faltering sales during the pandemic, drug stores have the opportunity to dominate the health care market through providing digital health products that already align with their core services and community’s needs.

Expand fulfilment methods

Lastly, drug stores need to put a greater emphasis on different fulfillment methods, such as direct-to-consumer. In our research, we found that 31% of people would “definitely” shop on a brand’s website that sells directly to consumers, while an additional 63% would consider it. Similar to apps, going DTC gives drug stores the ability to collect first-party data; they can gather information on shopper behaviors, which can help provide a picture of who the end consumers are, while allowing them to offer exclusive products to bring in new customers. It can help drug store companies understand their customer and the end-to-end digital path-to-purchase and continuously optimize the user experience, which is crucial for any business to remain successful.

Digital health services and storefronts represent a valuable growth opportunity for drug stores both during and after COVID-19 to plan for a series of “next normals.” To effectively meet the needs of the new consumer, drug stores should scale up their existing apps, seek out partnerships with health and wellness companies, offer more digital health products in their stores, and roll out a DTC model to reach the majority of consumers that have already gone online.

If drug stores are to remain a core pillar of their communities, they need to go where the people are — online. Ensuring success with digital health initiatives requires keeping on your customers’ pulse and getting an accurate understanding of their evolving behaviors, routines and habits. Creating a community that lets you capture ongoing consumer feedback can provide the real-time insights and agility you need to meet evolving consumer needs. In the end, the chain drug stores that have a regular dose of customer insights are positioned well to take advantage of the digital health craze.

Dara St. Louis is founding partner and senior vice president at Reach3 Insights. She can be contacted at dara.stlouis@reach3insights.com.


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