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Coronavirus restrictions are already beginning to ease around Australia, but for the pharmacy sector, there’s no going back to business as usual.
From strict hygiene measures to digital connectivity and convenience, these are the changes in customer expectations that community pharmacies will have to reckon with as we move forward.
In just a few short months, the COVID-19 crisis has reshaped society, and only time will tell the extent to which things return to ‘normal’. While it’s impossible to have a complete picture now of how customer expectations have changed in the long term, there are some shifts that appear almost certain.
As customers remain wary of a coronavirus resurgence – and are more hygiene-conscious in general – pharmacies will need to continue to make every effort to be seen as a safe environment. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when they go into their local pharmacy, customers want to feel confident they’re not going to contract COVID-19.
This means that pharmacies will need to keep their comprehensive social distancing and hygiene measures in place for the foreseeable future, including:
It’s likely that customers will continue to want to limit the amount of time they spend at the pharmacy – and that’s why it will be vital for pharmacies to have a strong digital infrastructure in place.
In that case, the logic of taking the time to upload images, prices and product descriptions for your 20,000+ product lines – and competing directly with deep discounters like Chemist Warehouse and Priceline on price! – starts to look significantly shakier.
Even if you think going all-in on eCommerce makes sense now, when customers are reluctant to visit your pharmacy, it might not make sense in, say, six months, when coronavirus restrictions are likely to have been lifted for some time. Is it really worth it, then, for you to invest the resources required to build an independent eCommerce store at this time?
Instead of eCommerce, it’s better to think of your online offering in terms of eConvenience. Customers will always want a more convenient experience, so you need to consider the digital infrastructure you can put in place that will make it easier for them to do business with you in the post-COVID landscape.
For instance, in response to the coronavirus, the Federal Department of Health has recently allowed GPs to send digital copies of prescriptions directly to their patients’ pharmacy of choice via email – so, unless you want to waste time on the phone each day spelling out your email address to GPs, you should make sure that your contact details are clearly viewable on your website.
You can also place a link on your website for customers to download the myPharmacyLink app, which will allow them to order their medications from you online, and send them a reminder when it’s time for their repeat prescription to be dispensed. The widespread adoption of the COVIDSafe app, with more than 2 million downloads in the first 24 hours after its launch, shows that customers are willing to provide their information to such an app when they can see a direct benefit to them.
You can use your website and your social media platforms to tell your customers about your delivery options; your opening hours; your available slots for vaccination bookings; and any government announcements or public health measures that might impact your services. If your customers are on Facebook, you should add Facebook Messenger Live Chat to your website so they can communicate directly with you in real-time on their preferred platform.
That’s not to say, of course, that you should never implement an eCommerce solution for your website – just that you should focus on the digital fundamentals first, to ensure your customers’ expectations of connectivity and convenience are met.
The latest studies show that the conversion rate for eCommerce websites is still just 2.86 per cent, globally (the 'conversion rate' being the percentage of visitors that make a purchase).
It’s clear that the pandemic has led to a surge in eCommerce, as consumers wary of heading to the shops amid the coronavirus lockdown have resorted to shopping online. Comparison site Finder’s analysis of Semrush data showed that Chemist Warehouse, for example, recorded a 54 per cent increase in online traffic from March 2019 to March 2020.
That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that community pharmacies should start building eCommerce stores. The latest studies show that the average conversion rate for eCommerce websites is still just 2.86 per cent, globally (the ‘conversion rate’ being the percentage of visitors that make a purchase).
For a national franchise retailer like Chemist Warehouse, the benefit-cost ratio of building and maintaining a dedicated eCommerce store with a conversion rate that low might make sense. But let’s say you’re an independent pharmacist competing with 5,500 other pharmacies for a share of Australia’s 25 million people – a pharmacist, in other words, with a total target market of somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people at best.
Customers have come to expect that they’ll be able to use home delivery and click-and-collect services to beat supermarket queues during the coronavirus lockdown period.
That has a flow-on effect to pharmacies, because customers expect the same level of service from healthcare providers that they receive from other businesses.
Of course, it’s up to each individual community pharmacy to decide if they will offer a home delivery option – but if you don’t, you’re forcing the customer to choose between coming into your store or ordering from a competitor that does deliver.
There are three ways for community pharmacies to do home deliveries:
For a limited time, the Australian Government is offering rebates to pharmacists for home deliveries to vulnerable members of the community through the COVID-19 Home Medicines Service.
If you do deliver, be sure to make this option (and the cost) clear on your website.
Community pharmacies can offer click-and-collect to customers through the Pharmacy Click and Collect platform, which is free for Pharmacy Guild of Australia members to join, and also serves as a great eCommerce solution in lieu of building your own online store.
Ultimately, no matter how customer expectations have changed, independent pharmacies will still be best placed to serve the needs of their communities – whether they’re online or in-store.
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