Part of Carebook’s Global Series: Pharmacies of the future must prepare for consumers of the future

Part of Carebook’s series: The Future of Pharmacy

Professor Gary Mortimer knows consumer habits. A Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at the QUT Business School, he is widely recognized as Australia’s leading retail expert and works closely with Australian television, print, online, and radio media to engage broadly with audiences, outside of academia. Prior to joining QUT, Professor Mortimer spent over 25 years working with some of Australia’s largest general merchandise and food retailers. Here, he shares his insights about emerging consumer habits post COVID-19 as they pertain to the Pharmacy industry.

The pharmacy of the future should prepare for the consumer of the future

The pharmacy industry has not been immune to the impacts of rapidly shifting consumer habits, including the stockpiling of over-the-counter and prescription medications. While it would be easy to look at COVID-19 as a single event that will end, says Professor Mortimer, we will no doubt see many long-term changes—shifts in values that manifest into new, persistent consumer behaviors. But pharmacists and pharmacies can absolutely take action to be ready for their customers of the future.

From frugal to optimistic—appeal to a wide range of money mindsets

At one end of the consumer spending habit spectrum, the past year has been fraught with income instability. Cautious shoppers will continue to buy more essential items as they try to re-establish themselves. For this group, pharmacies should consider a selection of low-cost, generic basics as well as “bundle offers” to lower unit prices. At the other end of the consumer spectrum, we will see younger, briefly disrupted, and now more optimistic consumers; willing to quickly return to normal consumption patterns. Optimistic shoppers may be looking for complementary products that round out their essentials.

Consumers, no matter which end of the spending spectrum, have been hyper-focused on health and wellness during the past year and many of these consumers will likely keep at least some of this vigilance. They’ll want “value” in terms of both money and interaction; the stability of brands they know and trust. Accordingly, pharmacies should consider having a good selection of budget options and also consider the expansion of complementary products, like vitamins, herbal remedies, and supplements. Importantly, these consumers will demand value in the form of trusted advice and information. And many of these people, still wary of public spaces, may be more comfortable shopping for budget and luxury items online.

Provide for the cocooners—many customers will be slow to emerge from home

Cocooning, the consumer tendency to retreat into the home and focus on personal pursuits, has provided safety and a sense of comfort and normality during the pandemic. Professor Mortimer says the last time we saw this was post-9/11. Aligned to this was a need for ‘feel good activities’ that could be achieved at home—a focus on health and wellness like solo fitness, cycling, yoga, meditation, healthy cooking, etc. These are things that won’t likely go away anytime soon. Pharmacists can play a part to help their customers find the kinds of goods and services that will help them stay healthy and well, no matter if they continue to cocoon, or if they’re ready to get back out into the world.

Get comfortable with the idea of digital and virtual

Globally, we have seen a decline in foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores as cities locked down and workers were told to stay home. We may not rush back to the office anytime soon as many of us have learned to balance working from home. Consequently, we may see pharmacies evaluating their physical stores—perhaps re-evaluating “prime” locations, keeping an eye on what happens to foot traffic, and potentially even revisiting core hours.

Virtual is the new norm. Zoom users increased from 10m to over 200m in 2020. Microsoft Teams reports that they added 12M active users in just 7 days. Friday after work drinks became virtual drinks and virtual exercise classes and cooking classes became the norm. This virtual environment presents great opportunities for pharmacy to connect with their market. How well are you placed to embrace, accelerate or adapt to these changes? Can you offer digital health advice? Are you ready to use technology to help give information like medication instructions, healthy eating tips, and more—digitally?

Have a robust E-commerce solution—and be omnipresent

Consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. retailers in 2020, up an incredible 44.0% year over year. Hence, it is vital for pharmacies to ensure their e-commerce channels are operational and optimized for ease of use. With the rise in e-commerce spending across all sectors and services, the expectation of brands has moved from being “omnichannel” (available across several platforms) to being “omnipresent”—providing the entire purchase experience (from recommendations to ordering and through to fulfillment) from one, single place. Your brick-and-mortar store may not be enough for the new consumer, now used to shopping from home and using digital services for communication.

Amplify your expertise! Pharmacists are highly accessible, trusted sources of information

To comply with various types of ‘stay at home’ directives, many customers have responded by supporting local businesses and brands. This community-focused consumer mindset presents a great opportunity to strengthen local community connections in the long term. It will be important for pharmacies to present their ‘local’ credentials as much as possible. For example, remind your consumers that you’ve been caring for the community before and during the pandemic—and that you’re ready to care for them after, too.

Professor Mortimer reminds us that for many consumers, fear and anxiety will continue. The speed of change at the onset of the pandemic was unsettling and has instilled fear in many. Pharmacy plays a critical role in mitigating fear through credible, timely, and relevant information. In times of crisis, trust becomes paramount—and for pharmacies and pharmacists, compassion, integrity, and accessibility are critical.

Embrace the current mindsets—but be future-focused, too

For many consumers post-pandemic, ‘good value for money’ will still be a key driver of purchase behavior. Importantly, value is not just ‘low price’. Value is quality advice, trust, benevolence, understanding, and more. It will be important for the pharmacy industry to understand all the types of ‘value’ that their customers seek. For example, will consumers expect to be alerted about sales via their smartphones? Do they want to be more proactive with their health? Will they express more interest in scheduling vaccinations ahead of time?

As people cautiously make their way back into the world, we may find consumers expressing an unwillingness to experiment. Some may continue to reassess their purchasing behaviours and consider more deeply where their money should and shouldn’t be spent. This could create challenges in launching new pharmaceutical brands, so the industry will need to counter trepidation with risk mitigation strategies—guarantees, advice, highly accessible information channels, etc.

The one thing we know for certain, Professor Mortimer says, is that the pharmacy of the future demands a healthy understanding of and respect for the consumer of the future.

About Professor Gary Mortimer

Gary Mortimer is a Professor of Consumer Behaviour and Marketing at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Chair of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) Consumer Research Advisory Committee.

Recently, Gary spoke at the Australian Pharmacy Professional Conference 2021, attended by 6,000+ pharmacy owners, pharmacy managers, pharmacists, intern pharmacists, retail managers, pharmacy assistants, students, and pharmacy industry suppliers. Contact him here. Find him on Twitter: @ProfRetail

About Carebook

Today, Carebook offers a digital health platform with powerful features including medication management, health and wellness, retail and loyalty, and more that pull revenue streams together into one, single spot—your customer’s hands. And Carebook is already planning for tomorrow with medication AI research with two important Canadian Universities, robust Caregiver components, and new, integrated vitals measurement technology. To find out more about how Carebook launched a future-of-pharmacy solution for a leading Canadian Pharmacy with proven increases in revenue and engagement—or to talk about fast-tracking your solution to market, please contact Howard Fried.

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