What the Pharmagora convention can teach us about consumer experience in pharmacy

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The annual pharmacy convention took place on the 7th and 8th of last April. For two days, pharmacy professionals met and discussed the evolution of their work and their consumers. .

The patient, a new consumer

A pharmacy’s patients are above all consumers. And they are evolving consumers. When they go to a pharmacy they already looked their symptoms up online (already in 2015, 40% of French people visited medical forums or websites on the Internet, Harris Interactive 2015). They want everything and they want it instantly, anytime, and preferably without having to go get it. They are constantly connected on their smartphones. And they are looking for customization, being used to hyper-customized commercial offers (customized mails, targeted advertising on social media and other websites, custom products in stores…).

For now the pharmacy field is far from meeting these consumer expectations that became almost essentials. In many markets (clothing, retail, automobile), having a website, being on social media, having screens in the store… is no longer a way to stand out, it is required. But on that front, pharmacies are very late. Even today only 529 pharmacies are allowed to sell online, which is less than 2,5% (according to the National Order of Pharmacists (l’Ordre national des pharmaciens)). A few years ago, a consumer entering a store filled with screens, where he could simultaneously see the brand’s catalog on his phone, order online, get home delivery… had a satisfying customer experience. Today, these client needs no longer guarantee a satisfying buying process, they are simply expected.

The pharmacy ecosystem is expending

To make up for its delayed dealing with a new kind of consumers, the pharmacy market must look at retail marketing for inspiration. The pharmacy space is digitizing to adapt to the buying process of its consumers: video screens installed in stores’ display windows, touchscreens in some aisles and near checkout waiting areas in order to create new contact points with a hyper-connected consumer. This space is also remade into specialized spaces: dermocosmetics, children products, smart objects, organic products, etc.

On the digital side, while pharmacy’s digital strategy follows e-marketing principles, its ecosystem must be rethought to take its place within its customers’ connected lives: development of an online store and bricks and clicks, sharing of updates on social media, newsletters and emailing, retargeting through mobile phone, targeted text messaging, etc.

The pharmacist’s new missions

It isn’t only the pharmacy that needs to evolve to meet it’s customers’ new expectations. The pharmacist must also learn to get used to these new tools: for instance learn to manage a website, offer appointments on the website to personally advise his patients, or recommend applications to manage patients’ treatment follow-up. Analysis and optimization of data is a major stake. Sellers must learn to use their client database for e-marketing activities. The pharmacist is no exception.

Moreover, smart objects sales are rising fast (+31,4% of sales between 2015 and 2016 for the Fnac-Darty Group) and generating a high revenue. Sadly health-related smart objects are still largely sold by high-tech brands (Fnac, Darty, Apple…) and not in health spaces such as the pharmacy. The pharmacist must retake the role of prescriber when it comes to these health tools and take advantage of his health expertise that big businesses lack. Who can advise and demonstrate products better than him?

Development of services available anywhere and at any time make it possible to maintain a relationship with the patient even after he leaves the pharmacy and to encourage loyalty. Even if the pharmacy is being digitized, a good pharmacy will always need a human touch. Putting the pharmacist back into his qualified adviser and prescriber role confirms his expertise as a health professional.

Digital as the key to client experience in pharmacy

However, compared to other retail markets, the pharmacy market has a difficult time making up for the delay in dealing with its consumers’ expectations. Even though 79% of pharmacists say they are ready to use a tablet to interact with patients (Barometer of the connected pharmacist, (Baromètre du pharmacien connecté), Medappcare 2018), pharmacists are not trained to manage websites, post on social medias or advise patients about smart objects. They are wary about the use of their patients’ personal data, do not see the point of these new tools (only 40,5% of pharmacists believe that health applications are a benefit to their patients’ health, Medappcare 2018) and consider that managing them is a waste of time. Pharmacy owners that are reluctant to bring their pharmacy into the digital transformation are afraid to have to make new hires for the management of these tools. The cost of digitally remodeling their sale space is also prohibitive (touchscreens, RFID self-checkout…)

The muddled reality

Along with consumers’ evolving expectations, the health market’s transformation is already taking place: beginning of online over-the-counter drug sales in 2013, the December 12, 2017 Versailles Court of Appeal judgment that allowed Doctipharma to sell online, which was so far limited to pharmacies. Those legal evolutions open the door to new players, such as E.Leclerc and Carrrefour, already present in drugstores and soon Amazon in prescription drugs (allowed in the United States in late 2017).

Even though pharmacists are still very resistant to this digital transformation, the closing of many pharmacies (188 closed in 2016, or +4,4% compared to 2015, the New Republic, (la Nouvelle République)) will necessarily lead to a change of the traditional pharmacy model. As other retailers some years ago, pharmacists will understand that attention paid to personalized advice and prescription will lead to more sales, as will an online store.

The rise of the marketing pharmacist shows the development of a new ecosystem in which the client and his needs are at the center of thinking about tomorrow’s pharmacy. In actuality, the market’s actors are still strongly resistant to change and the part of pharmacies that are working towards it is still trivial. The health market is in the middle of deep upheaval but it will not make up for the delay in a day.

Come to the Pharmagora Plus conference on the 30th and 31st of March 2019 to discover advances and news from the market.