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The future of retail pharmacy will depend on bold new ideas

In his latest column, DSN editor in chief Nigel Maynard takes a look at how identifying and solving the challenges of a business or industry will require out-of-the-box thinking.

America was built by people who had big ideas — dreamers, innovators, pioneers. These individuals saw possibilities when others did not. There are also modern innovators who had brilliant ideas that blossomed into such products and services as Google, Netflix, GoPro and Tesla.

But there is another type of visionary in the business world, the individual who identifies challenges that a business or industry might be having and comes up with ideas to help address them. There are tons of examples of companies that have fallen on hard times but recovered with the help of good ideas. FedEx, General Motors, GE and Apple come to mind.

So how does this relate to retail pharmacy? The industry is not as badly off as, say, GM circa 2009, but there are some challenges. 

It’s no secret that pharmacies have been experiencing slowing traffic because of the pandemic. In the last 18 months, more consumers curbed store visits, put off flu shots and delayed doctor visits to limit exposure to the virus. Walgreens told The Wall Street Journal in January 2021 that the pandemic is hurting visits to pharmacies.

Storm clouds were gathering before the pandemic, however. In a 2019 article, the Chicago Tribune reported that Walgreens was closing 200 stores and CVS was slowing openings due to declining store visits and changing consumer habits.

“For pharmacies, which also face pressures related to reimbursements for medication, getting customers to come in once a month for a prescription refill, or for an occasional gallon of milk or bottle of shampoo isn’t enough,” the Chicago Tribune article stated. “Walgreens and CVS are both trying to give customers more reasons to visit their stores by offering more health services and better merchandise.”

Solving the challenges of retail pharmacy will require out of the box thinking and bold ideas. Some options might be easy enough to try, while others may require a leap of faith. I’ve been thinking about this recently, and playing around with some ideas of my own. Here are some of my thoughts:

What if pharmacies lean into the e-commerce trend that the pandemic accelerated. It works for Amazon and many other retailers. Sure, pharmacies already offer delivery for their products, but they could make online orders a bigger part of the business model.

How about subscription services? What if pharmacies started programs for consumers who want to receive delivery of basic goods on a regular basis? Coincidentally, a subscription program was a big hit with our recent focus group of young female consumers.

Would pharmacies see traction if they rethought the store concept? Should they redesign their stores with an updated, modern look that is easier to navigate? How about doing an inventory check on the front-end, eliminating the items that don’t move and focusing on the things that do. A streamlined, redesigned store concept might work well for younger buyers who appreciate good design.

Of course no one knows for sure if these options will work, but the idea here is that pharmacy execs may need to think outside the box if they want to find solutions to reverse current trends. Their futures depend on it.

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