Mandatory mail order — indie pharmacy’s biggest front-end competitor

September 16, 2013By Focus on the Pharmacy Front End Blog, Independent Pharmacy

by Jen Johnston

Last year, HRG surveyed independent pharmacies about many topics, one of which was who their biggest competitors are when it comes to their front-end. One east coast pharmacist called me during the midst of Hurricane Sandy cleanup because his power was out and he couldn’t complete the online survey, but he had a lot he wanted to share.

One of his main concerns revolved around who was his biggest front-end competitor. While I am paraphrasing here, he basically said: So many independent pharmacy owners think their biggest front-end competitor is a chain drugstore, a mass retailer, or even a grocery store. They certainly affect my business. But do you know who my biggest front-end competitor is? Mandatory mail order!Mail order

I was intrigued and asked him to elaborate – I completely understood why mandatory mail order is a very real threat to a pharmacy’s prescription business, but why was mail-order a threat to his front-end as well? After all, shoppers don’t typically order their deodorant or analgesic through mail order, right?

Jen, he replied, if my shoppers are required by their insurance companies to order their prescriptions via mail order, then they aren’t even walking through my doors to see my front-end. And that’s the problem. I’ve lost them forever, or at least until their insurance changes, and even then there are no guarantees they’ll return.

He had a great point.

So, the HRG team used that pharmacist’s feedback to start brainstorming – what should a store that loses a large percentage of their prescription customers do to keep them coming in for their OTC and personal care products? How else can they replace some of those Rx profits? Here are a few innovative solutions we came up with:

  1. Invite your former Rx patients to come in for a “prescription review” to make recommendations on all of the front-of-store items the customer should consider to thwart the challenges of side effects and make the drug regimen more effective. After all, dispensing the prescription itself is not the only way a pharmacist can help a patient.
  2. Heavily promote your front-end as a convenient destination for everyday essentials. Alternately, you could specialize in niche HBW products that aren’t available at local competitors.
  3. Make yourself the best gift shop for miles around. Include “gifts for yourself” at price points that won’t make people feel guilty to buy for themselves. Rotate your gift stock often, keep it sparkling clean. Advertise your selection as if you aren’t even a pharmacy. Or, rent your front-end to another retailer who specializes in unique, “boutique-y” stuff. Let them do their thing while you do your thing, each driving traffic to the other.

Don’t give up hope. While mandatory mail order may seem like a difficult hurdle, it is not insurmountable. You just need to get creative and make them aware of all the other advantages of shopping your store to keep your customers coming back.

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