Retailers can expect great things from home diagnostics category

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The at-home diagnostics category is exploding.

The category generated more than $190 million in sales in food, drug and mass outlets (excluding Walmart) during the 52 weeks ended May 15, according to SymphonyIRI Group Inc. data.

And while many categories have seen only modest increases during the slow economic recovery, at-home diagnostics has experienced a sales increase of 35% in the last two years.

Driving this category is a spike in consumer-driven health care, with patients taking greater control of their health, especially as it relates to spending.

Drug stores are at the center of the trend. A whopping 89% of at-home diagnostics product sales were made in drug stores during the last year. As drug stores position themselves to be at the center of health care, diagnostics and monitoring are vital.

This evolving category includes blood pressure monitors, drug tests and health monitoring kits. Blood pressure monitors are performing particularly well, posting a 34% increase over the last two years and generating nearly $124 million in sales.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three adults, or more than 70 million people, in the United States has high blood pressure. Over the past 10 years more people with high blood pressure, especially those over 60, have become aware of their condition and sought treatment, including self-monitoring their blood pressure and recording it for the doctor.

Beginning in 2008 the American Heart Association and a host of other medical organizations published a scientific statement encouraging everyone with hypertension to monitor their blood pressure at home.

Cholesterol testing has come a long way as well. Gone are the days when testing cholesterol levels required a doctor visit. Mail-in fingerstick tests let patients self-test total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels from the comfort and privacy of their homes.

Home drug testing is a $48 million segment on the rise that has more than doubled since 2004. Consumers test for the presence of one or multiple drugs in themselves or a loved one, often a child or spouse. One drug test manufacturer conducted consumer research that showed that 40% of respondents had received information from a pharmacist before making their purchase.

At-home diagnostic tests are seen by many consumers as more convenient and cost-effective than visiting the doctor. While the tests are typically purchased out-of-pocket, they can be far less expensive than office visit co-pays, and many individuals are able to tap into flexible spending or health savings accounts to cover the costs of certain tests. Examples of other home testing kits include those for pregnancy, ovulation, male infertility, urinary tract infection, HIV, Hepatitis C, colorectal disease, blood glucose, skin growth, vision, menopause, vaginal pH and ­paternity.

Most chain and community pharmacies house at-home diagnostic kits together. While this may make sense from a category standpoint, consider for a moment how a customer might shop. Heart health patients may be interested in a blood pressure monitor or cholesterol testing kit, but chances are they won’t browse the section for a menopause, paternity or colorectal disease test. Merchandising all at-home diagnostic test kits together leaves little room for cross-purchase.

On the other hand, if the blood pressure monitors and cholesterol testing kits were housed in a heart health-focused section, imagine the possibilities for companion sales. Everything from low-dose aspirin, niacin and pistachios to heart rate watches and heart healthy cookbooks could be featured alongside the diagnostic tests. This opens up exposure for many types of products surrounding disease state management. Many other testing kits would fit nicely into this model.

Those retailers who choose to keep at-home diagnostic tests shelved together for the time being should be sure to position the section near the pharmacy counter. Pharmacists play an important role in educating patients and recommending at-home diagnostic tests based on the prescriptions they pick up. Also, retailers should consider the demographics of their pharmacies. If the majority of shoppers are women over age 45, then keeping a selection of menopause tests may make sense. If the customer base skews younger, pregnancy, ovulation and paternity tests may be heavier sellers.

Regardless of merchandising technique, at-home diagnostics are here to stay. As technology advances and consumer-driven health care trends grow, expect to see great things from this rising category.

Jennifer Johnston is an industry writer and researcher with Hamacher Resource Group Inc., a retail health care research and marketing company.


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