After three years of the pandemic, consumers are returning to health care. But they are not returning to the same health care landscape, nor are they behaving in the same manner. The pent-up post-pandemic demand for health care services has created longer wait times at traditional point-of-care locations like primary care offices, pushing consumers to look elsewhere for treatment — including their pharmacies.
To understand consumer behavior in the new pharmacy landscape, we surveyed more than 1,000 consumers in the U.S. in December 2022. We wanted to know: What are consumers looking for in a pharmacy experience, and how can pharmacies adapt their services and delivery of care to meet consumers’ disparate needs?
Understand customer segments
Our research shows that there is no one-size-fits-all pharmacy experience. We asked respondents to share how they currently interact with their pharmacy and what is most important about a pharmacy experience. We also asked them to rate hypothetical scenarios, including whether they prefer digital versus human touchpoints, how pharmacy layout influences their experience, what services they would consider receiving from a pharmacy, and the type of relationship they want to have with a pharmacist. The results showed clear patterns within customer segments, highlighting different technology choices pharmacies should offer and investments they should make in their physical space.
Let’s explore the customer segments we identified, keeping in mind that customer demographics will vary, and the “right” choice for one pharmacy will not be the right choice for another.
- Comfortable, Consistent Patients — Comfortable, Consistent Patients tend to be older and have the highest incidence of chronic illness. They want their pharmacy to help them manage their health, including through chronic condition management programs. These consumers are sensitive to wait times and want immediate digital access to results in acute settings, indicating that technology should be used to both streamline the care experience and deepen the clinical relationship. For example, developing a digital patient portal with medication adherence programs can drive pharmacy volume and patient outcomes.
- Connected Care Leaders — Connected Care Leaders are the most digitally inclined group of consumers. This group is predominantly young women, and they have the highest affinity for telehealth, even in regular preventative care. They want to manage their health and wellness through a connected digital environment, and they are happy to use technology in every part of the care process, from booking appointments to checking in at the pharmacy to follow-up care. Integrating technology into the delivery of care through an intuitive digital ecosystem will allow for data-informed visits that can increase customer retention rates. These consumers are also concerned about their privacy, meaning Connected Care Leaders are especially interested in having care delivered in a private area separate from the pharmacy.
- Spontaneous Consumers — Spontaneous Consumers have the most transactional relationship with the pharmacy and place the least importance on a strong relationship with their pharmacist. They are more interested in going to the pharmacy as needed to receive acute services. They are the least likely to use telehealth and prefer in-person interaction when going to the pharmacy. While technology could play a role in some aspects of the experience, the digital touchpoints should be simple for this low-tech group.
- Convenient Switchers — Finally, Convenient Switchers exhibit less loyalty and are more likely to have recently switched pharmacies. They are most focused on having a tailored experience and are influenced by a pharmacy location’s proximity to them. They use telehealth, but primarily in emergency situations. These consumers will use technology if it supports a convenient experience, but are inclined toward human-driven interactions, creating a need to keep the pharmacist at the center of care. Pharmacies should look to leverage tablets to educate these customers on services and run insurance. Meanwhile, digital apps can offer the optional convenience to book appointments while still allowing direct interaction with the pharmacist during care.
While customer experience has become an increasingly important element of engaging and retaining consumers, the pharmacy services offered are critical to capturing consumer spending. To identify which services to offer, pharmacies must understand their target consumer segment(s) and adapt to the relationships that those consumers want with the pharmacy.
While some routine services, such as flu vaccinations, have been a staple of pharmacy services for years, the delivery of COVID vaccines and testing has increased consumers’ expectations of the role pharmacies can play. Each consumer segment has different expectations about their relationship with the pharmacy and different comfort levels with pharmacist-provided services.
- Comfortable, Consistent Patients want care for chronic conditions — This group is looking for chronic care management. They are not interested in a broad range of wellness activities, but they are open to wellness services related to their chronic conditions, such as nutrition counseling. Their reliance on regular medication means this group primarily wants the pharmacist to support prescription renewals, but they also have some desire to expand the relationship and use the pharmacy to provide acute and preventative care.
- Connected Care Leaders want a private relationship with their pharmacist and will explore wellness — This group is the most interested in developing a robust relationship with their pharmacist as a care provider, especially for maintenance services such as nutrition services or chronic care management. Connected Care Leaders are the most interested in wellness services, creating an opportunity for the pharmacy to offer add-on services such as body composition evaluations that would provide the basis for personalized wellness plans. Personalization, incorporated with one-on-one touchpoints with the pharmacy team, can differentiate offerings for this segment that highly values the pharmacist relationship.
- Spontaneous Consumers are looking for a broad range of services, but aren’t invested in the relationship — Spontaneous Consumers are the most willing to go to the pharmacist for a broad range of acute and preventative health services. The transactional nature of these consumers means they are most influenced by pharmacy proximity and flexibility in appointments. The best way for pharmacies to capture value from this segment: provide a wide spectrum of services without significant investment in costly relationship-building elements such as follow-up care.
- Convenient Switchers want convenience and routine services — Members of this group are least likely to engage the pharmacy for acute care, but are interested in using the pharmacy for routine health tests (cholesterol, blood glucose) and selective wellness services (nutrition consultation, sleep tracking support). It should be noted that with a high risk of switching pharmacies and a lower propensity for acute care services from the pharmacist, this group may not represent significant value. Pharmacies looking to capture customers in this segment should consider piloting wellness services to understand the demand and scale accordingly. Expanded touchpoints with the customer may also increase their comfort level for receiving other services from their pharmacy team.
Providing an array of services may require increased investment to free up pharmacist capacity to operate at the top of their license, or partnerships with third-party specialists.
Take some time to understand how these broad customer segments relate to your customer analytics. Analyze your data to understand: Who are your customers, and what are they looking for? Which groups are most valuable for your brand?
Of course, pharmacies cannot tailor themselves to meet the demands of all customer segments; instead, it is important to identify the target consumer groups based on the pharmacy’s location and service capacity and to prioritize investment with a higher lifetime value. Technology has become an increasingly important investment for clinical providers to make, but while technology is an essential element of providing care for some consumers, for others it’s an ancillary tool to create ease and convenience. Creating options is important even within consumer segments, as consumers want a different experience and care setting based on the services they are receiving.
As consumer preferences continue to evolve, there is an opportunity for the pharmacy to extend beyond a place for medication and retail needs and expand into a primary point of care. To deliver on this expanded purpose, pharmacies must first understand their target customer segments and deliver on their desired experiences.
Rodey Wing is a partner in the health practice at Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm. He can be reached at [email protected] Laura Bowen is a principal in the health practice at Kearney. She can be reached at [email protected] Dylan Geary is an associate at Kearney. She can be reached at [email protected]
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