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The next iteration of retail pharmacy begins to take shape

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Matt Kleinschmit

Since their inception, pharmacies have strived to provide a quality health care experience for consumers. Over the past several decades, pharmacies have evolved from the small-town neighborhood store to major chains serving millions. In that time, they’ve implemented additional services for communities: In 2006, Walgreens was the first major chain to pioneer the in-store clinic, with competitors like CVS following suit shortly after. Walgreens also led the charge in these chains by offering online pharmaceutical services with the acquisition of Drugstore.com, the first online pharmacy. However, what’s been lost in this evolution is that intimate 1:1 experience that small town pharmacies used to provide.

While it’s impossible to exactly replicate that on a large scale, these chains can use consumer insights to tailor and optimize their services to meet the specific needs of their customers. So what does this next iteration of the pharmacy look like as both a health care provider and a retail store, as society increasingly moves online and demands a personalized experience?

More tech involvement

About half of the U.S. population wants greater tech involvement in their health care in the next five to 10 years, according to TrendSpot: Digital Health & Wellness, an ongoing research program tracking evolving consumer attitudes on the intersection of technology and health. Pharmacies have already taken this into consideration with offering online flu and COVID shot appointment booking and prescription refilling. While that does fulfill the very basics of providing a digitized experience, pharmacies need to think about more ways to bring technology into the mix. What else can be done with tech? Reminders to refill prescriptions? Virtual clinic appointments? To move into the next era of digital, pharmacies must shift their focus to think about how they can offer consumers a seamless tech experience while also using an omnichannel approach.

Creating an omnichannel experience

Another opportunity for retail drug store chains is wearables and wellness apps, which, if connected to a pharmacy app, can bring together technology, retail, health and wellness, ultimately delivering the consumer’s desired omnichannel experience. The insights support the need for such an offering — in the same study, TrendSpot found the overall usage of wearables to be significant: About half of those surveyed currently utilize health tech devices, especially wearables, with fitness-oriented wearables the most popular (i.e., Fitbit, where 30% of respondents expressed interest), followed by smart home health devices (i.e., air purifier, mirror, 18%), holistic wearables (i.e., Apple Watch, 14%) and smart scales (14%). And as interest in health and wellness devices continues to grow, so does usage of fitness-oriented health and wellness apps, with 40% of Americans currently having at least one or more apps in this category installed on their phone.

Bringing trust back to pharmacy

With this swift move to online, it is no surprise Amazon has thrown its hat in the mix, having purchased PillPack in 2021 as a push to get into drug delivery. While big tech has the opportunity to play a fundamental role in how Americans manage all aspects of their health, 54% of Americans still say they would never trust a big tech company with their personal health information, citing concerns over how these companies handle private consumer data, whilst others simply prefer human interaction in their health care, according to TrendSpot, which is the sweet spot pharmacies have the opportunity to exploit.

But how? By listening to the consumer to create that 1:1 experience like those pharmacies of the past. In order to get insightful, authentic feedback that can be used to drive business decisions in the present day and build trust with consumers, companies need to offer an opportunity for two-way conversations. Where better than mobile? The mobile phone is glued to every consumer’s hand. In this environment, pharmacies can continuously engage with their customers to learn about and maintain an accurate understanding of attitudes, opinions and preferences.

One of the most successful methods for achieving this is for drug stores to offer an “always-on” mobile-based customer community for capturing real-time feedback, sharing new services and offering deals. This innovative “voice of customer” solution drives continuous engagement while also fostering relationships so that their pharmacist is truly their trusted health care partner, rather than a chain store drug-retail chain.

Pharmacies have a unique opportunity to effectively meet the needs of the evolving retail customer, who is seeking both personalized service and technological innovation. By expanding mobile-based services and incorporating digital health products into their omnichannel inventories, the future of the pharmacy can be a marriage of the intimacy of in-store and the capabilities of digital.

Matt Kleinschmit is founder and chief executive officer of Reach3 Insights. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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