by Jamie Sershon, merchandising analyst, for the Resolutions blog series
Do you have a plan for the future of your independent pharmacy? We’ve all heard about the upcoming generations and how indies are going to be facing stiffer competition from other retailers. Times have definitely changed and will continue to evolve. Think about your current customers and what generation they fit into. You probably have had these established customers for years. If you look into the future, will these customers still be around in ten or twenty years? So I challenge you by asking, what are you planning on doing about it?
We all know that a simple answer is to market to the next generation. While that seems like an easy task that can be put aside until you are in need of new customers, you should have a plan in place now.
I have the “luxury” of being in an age group that sits right between the millennials and Gen Xer’s. As a kid I played outside all day until the street lights came on and didn’t touch a computer until about 12-years old. Personal cell phones weren’t a thing and smartphones weren’t even fathomable. Looking back on that time it seems inconvenient to not have had that technology, but I’m grateful I was able to experience those years without it. I understand how previous generations get frustrated and fear new technology, yet I become impatient if I can’t access information immediately, and so find myself compassionate toward the millennial mindset, also.
We all have perceptions of how a millennial customer shops. However, not all millennials are the same, so you will need to figure out how those in your community respond to different marketing, prices, and products. Some are more cost conscious than previous generations, while others shop based on morals and what is important to them. Whether your local millennials typically purchase organic or natural products, look for the best deal, or brands that they trust, I suggest doing research to understand their preferences.
One thing pretty prevalent and consistent within the millennial generation is the need for convenience. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. They have grown up with the ability to search for ailments and diagnoses online for as long as they can remember, and they self-diagnose and self-medicate based on what they read. They also use social media to post questions regarding their health to get others’ opinions and recommendations. You need to gain their trust so they come to you instead.
Now consider this: do they want to call you with their questions or does that seem too inconvenient? Some may prefer to call and speak with a live pharmacist for guidance and reassurance; however, others find it more convenient to email through a secure website to avoid going through phone prompts, sitting on hold, or being told that somebody will return their call. What can you do to make it more convenient? I suggest something as simple as email (that you would need to check regularly). You could get a little more elaborate with a secure and private patient question forum, or even an app for phones or tablets.
You may have to try some new ways to reach millennials with your marketing message – ways they will find convenient. Although they can be cost conscious shoppers, they aren’t necessarily cutting coupons out of the paper. Having electronic ads and coupons will be more appealing to them. Many other retailers have already converted their marketing efforts to utilize a variety of electronic communications such as email, social media, websites, apps, etc. and are able to scan a smartphone for a coupon. Some allow the efficiency of ordering online and picking up in the store. Others can even track how their customers shop because their app allows them to see purchasing habits and send offers while shoppers are in the store.
I’m not suggesting you need to implement all of these methods right away, but with how fast technology is evolving, you should think about what you can implement and estimate a manageable timeframe.
All of these advances in technology have one thing in common, and that’s convenience for shoppers. Consumers are getting more used to these advances and in everyone’s busy lives, they are embracing these conveniences whether a millennial or not.
As I mentioned, we have all heard about the need to prepare for the upcoming generations. We know that changes will need to be implemented at some point; however, I urge you to start planning now. Even if it’s for implementation in the future, you need to research the realities of the “new” retail environment and customer needs. It will be here before you know it and you don’t want to fall behind your competition. While there will always be those customers that won’t embrace technology, if you want to attract the next generations, I strongly suggest learning about their preferences and your options in meeting them. We may miss the simplistic days of walking to a friend’s house to talk to them in person or riding our bikes for hours while our parents didn’t worry where we were; however, as somebody who doesn’t quite fit the millennial or Gen Xer mold, I see both generations embracing the changes. The reality is this new world is not going away and is just going to become more complex. The future is happening and you need to start adapting before you get left behind.