‘Unboxed retail’ explains the changing perception of stores

May 27, 2022By Views

By Dave Wendland, vice president strategic relations, as seen in Chain Drug Review

As customer expectations transform, supply chain issues remain, cost pressures rise and workforce challenges linger, retail drug stores must continue their rapid change and transformation. The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly accelerated this necessary evolution.

During this time of reinvention across the industry, I’m reminded of the old real estate adage, “Location, location, location.” Until recent years, if I looked at this through a retail lens, I would have defined this to include the physical address of the storefront, the placement of items on shelves within the aisles, and perhaps media presence and advertising visibility. Today, retailers must expand their definition to think beyond the physical aspects of location and support an “anywhere, anytime, anyplace” shopper mentality.

My article title, “Unboxed Retail,” references how there has been a shift in consumer perception of retailers. As consumers think about their interaction with retail operations, including pharmacy, they no longer think first of physical stores. Rather, they think about ease of access, convenience and product availability in a seamless, frictionless environment.

The pandemic underscored the vital role of pharmacy in serving its community with readily available, consistent health and wellness support. Expanded patient resources, point-of-care testing, vaccinations and counseling demonstrated the value of the pharmacy profession and extended a pharmacist’s role to practice at the top of their licenses.

The pandemic also raised concern across all retail channels requiring continued transformation in such areas as more immediate digital access, broadened service portfolio, expanded technology and data insights, and a need for uncommon partnerships. For pharmacy practices, as the location of care continues its shift from hospitals to homes, the focus on improving patient health will further reshape pharmacy operations, leading to higher quality support for a patient’s well-being and improved integration of pharmacists into overall care teams.

Several examples immediately come to mind: Walgreens expansion of their incorporation of VillageMD into their core offerings; Hayat Pharmacies, a Milwaukee-based group of independent pharmacy locations, introduced mental health services as a value to the community; Kroger was recognized by the American Pharmacists Association for its continual advancement of the role of pharmacists as valued immunization administrators; and Rite Aid’s strategic evolution focused on becoming a health and wellness destination.

As we move beyond the pandemic, the pharmacy profession will surely remain in the forefront, emboldening pharmacists and patients to work together toward a better understanding of medication use and shared patient outcomes. Since joining this industry more than 30 years ago, I have seen pharmacists become more than a provider of drugs. Now, more than ever, I believe they are viewed as community-focused providers of care.pharmacy interior

A recent study (“The Prescription of Trust,” January 2022) conducted by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Express Scripts Pharmacy, an Evernorth company, revealed that most people trust pharmacists to play a greater role in providing their care. “As the shortage of doctors and nurses persists, and as complex new therapies and digital health care technology solutions are developed, the role of the pharmacist will continue to evolve,” said John McHugh, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia Mailman.

Coupled with the consumerism of health care and the drive toward empowered self-care, retail pharmacy is well positioned to extend its service offerings and channels of patient interaction to meet consumers at this new intersection. I’ve seen tremendous examples emerge that strengthen pharmacy’s value proposition and drive an intriguing future state. Pharmacies have emerged stronger and more relevant, and people have been reminded that retail pharmacies have been a well-kept secret to provide support and guidance to prevent future conditions, maintain chronic conditions, recover from short-term illness and offer support to those caring for loved ones.

As I look to the future, I envision a more seamless amalgamation of physical stores with digitally enabled options as a new model for pharmacy. Consumers will have new opportunities to interact with pharmacists and other professionals as part of a connected hub of care. This will include enhanced relationships that offer tailored solutions to patients at their particular point in their health journey. The feared commoditization of pharmacy will leapfrog into a new era that provides a unique experience for each individual.

Tomorrow’s pharmacies will offer more far-reaching pharmacy services and core health care resources. Not necessarily usurping the traditional health care model, the role of pharmacy will definitely fill voids for those who may not have immediate access to physicians or hospitals in their area, serve as a triage and port of call for minor illnesses, and help consumers navigate the health care landscape. Of course, it goes without saying, patient care will remain the primary function of pharmacy teams.

Despite the many changes encountered during the ongoing pandemic, Greek philosopher Heraclitus was absolutely correct when he said, “Change is the only constant in life.” For retail pharmacies willing to embrace change while adapting to new shopper behavior, the future will be bright (and challenging!).