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Australia’s biggest pharmacy chains are rolling out digital initiatives to meet and exceed the expectations of their customers – and community pharmacies are more than capable of keeping up. If ever there were a time for pharmacies to innovate, this is it. While the COVID-19 crisis has hit many Australian retailers hard, it has led to a period of unprecedented demand for pharmacy products. Australian wholesalers distributed more than 70 million PBS medicines during March and April – a 70 per cent increase on the same period last year, and a greater volume than at any other time in Australia’s history – and customers are increasingly expecting their interactions with pharmacies to be seamless and convenient. Here are a few ways that Australia’s pharmacy chains are changing how they do business to enhance their customers’ experience, and solutions for how independent and banner pharmacies can compete with them.
As life gradually returns to its pre-COVID pace, customers will be looking for experiences that put time back in their day. One way to do this is with apps that allow them to order their medications online through their regular pharmacy, keep track of their prescriptions, and receive notifications when repeat scripts are ready to be dispensed.
The MedAdvisor app, which offers this functionality, is used by the Amcal, TerryWhite Chemmart and UFS pharmacy chains. Chemist Warehouse and Priceline Pharmacy offer their own apps with similar functionality.
Priceline reported a three-fold increase in app activations in the first half of the financial year, even before the coronavirus crisis hit, suggesting that customers are increasingly turning to apps to help them manage their medications and spend less time waiting in-store to get their prescriptions filled.
How can community pharmacies compete?
The MedAdvisor app is an integrated patient app available to all Australian community pharmacies. It’s a ‘white labeller’, meaning it can be fully customised to display your pharmacy’s logo, brand colours and details when your customers activate the app.
Through the MedAdvisor app, your customers can order and pay for their medications from you at the touch of a button. You can use the app to provide your customers with dose reminders and alerts; access to their current scripts and script history; government-approved information about the medications they’re taking; and easy script refill functions to encourage repeat business.
The app will provide your customers with handy reminders when their supply is running low and they need a new script from the doctor, and it can also be used to provide them with progress reports and test results for services like blood pressure monitoring, blood glucose monitoring, inhaler technique checks and vaccinations.
You can place information about the app’s features and a link to download it on your website, but much like the apps supplied by the pharmacy chains, it will need to be initially activated in person at the pharmacy.
Chemist Warehouse, which also offers a Click and Collect service, has reported a similar surge in online trading, with an increase of over 50 per cent from March 2019 to March 2020. Even compared to the busy Christmas period last December, their online store did 8 per cent more business in March.
How can community pharmacies compete?
Pharmacy Click and Collect is available to all Pharmacy Guild of Australia members for free, removing the need for community pharmacies to build their own eCommerce stores.
The Pharmacy Click and Collect network includes over 650 independent and 350 banner pharmacies, making it one of the largest pharmacy networks in the country. While your in-store offering might be limited by your opening hours, Click and Collect customers can order online at any time of day or night, any day of the year.
As a community pharmacy, you retain the ability to control your range and set your own pricing for your products. Alternatively, you can use the suppliers’ recommended retail pricing. Because not all pharmacies stock exactly the same products, customers will be directed to their nearest community pharmacy that does stock the product they’re buying. Naturally, all sales that come to your store will go through your point-of-sale system.
Once a customer places their order, they’ll be provided with an estimated order fulfillment time, and be given the option of receiving an email, phone call or text message to let them know their order is ready for pick-up, so they’re not arriving in-store before their order is good to go.
It’s a simple way to increase foot traffic to your store and expand your customer base.
Australian Pharmaceutical Industries, says demand for the chain's Click & Collect services has 'significantly increased' as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Click and Collect combines the immediacy of an online purchase with the convenience of an in-store pickup. It’s fast becoming a feature that customers expect as a baseline requirement of the stores they do business with, especially as online retail surges during this period of coronavirus restrictions.
Priceline rolled out their robust new Click and Collect offering in the first half of this financial year, allowing customers to order online and pick up their purchase from their local store within two trading hours.
Richard Vincent, the CEO and managing director of Priceline’s parent company, Australian Pharmaceutical Industries, says demand for the chain’s Click and Collect services has “significantly increased” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online shopping was already on track to account for 12 per cent of retail spending by 2024 before the coronavirus crisis, and Australians have only grown more used to packages from online retailers arriving at their door during this time of social distancing.
There’s no reason to think customers will all flock back to stores once restrictions are lifted – and that’s especially true for pharmacies, as Australia’s first paperless electronic prescription was recently prescribed and dispensed.
Click and Deliver is another option that the larger chains are taking advantage of. Customers can now order online and have their items delivered the same day from selected local Priceline Pharmacies, as opposed to waiting for their order to be delivered from a central warehouse, while Chemist Warehouse recently announced a partnership with the Last Mile Delivery app to deliver online orders from across its national network of outlets.
There are currently three ways for community pharmacies to offer a delivery service.
The first is to do it yourself – simply put a staff member in a car that you can brand with your pharmacy’s logo and details, and have them drive around the suburb and make deliveries.
The second option is to use Australia Post’s Pharmacy Home Delivery Service, a new initiative to help local pharmacies serve their community with next-business-day deliveries during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the service is only available to at-risk members of the community who have been advised by a doctor to self-isolate, are 70 years old and over, or have a chronic health condition. It’s unlikely that this home delivery service will continue to be offered once the threat of COVID-19 has passed.
The third option is third-party delivery via a courier. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has endorsed Kings Group to offer Guild members the Pharmacy to Home Delivery Service, empowering any community pharmacy to offer deliveries without needing to buy a pharmacy car or assign the task to a staff member. Check out www.pharmacydeliveries.com.au
A Kings driver will come to your pharmacy, pick up any parcels that need delivering, and take them to your customer’s home within three to four hours of the job being booked. Live tracking is available to ensure the transparency of the service. The scalable service is available on an ad hoc or permanent basis, depending on your pharmacy’s needs.
Ultimately, the beauty of being an independent pharmacy is that it’s up to you to choose which of these solutions you implement for your customers – but the capability is certainly there for you to provide the same level of convenience and connectivity that customers have come to expect from larger chains.
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