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Study: Consumers shop drug stores for grocery, household items as much as pharmacy

Drug stores are favored over grocery stores, mass retailers and online for pharmacy and medical needs, per Acosta Group's Drug Store Channel Shopper Insights study.

Products within personal care, household needs and grocery are in shoppers’ physical and digital carts as much as items from drug/Rx and pharmacy, the channel-leading categories, according to Acosta Group's Drug Store Channel Shopper Insights Study.  

The Acosta Group noted that national drug store sales had already reached $53 billion by mid-February of 2023, reflecting the third consecutive year of growth with no slowdown on the horizon, according to NielsenIQ, March 2023. The top three drug chains, Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid, contribute 87% of channel sales, with over 20,000 stores, per Kantar, 2023.   

With channel growth credited to consumers’ focus on health and wellness during the pandemic, drug stores have continued to drive traffic. According to shoppers, drug stores are favored over grocery stores, mass retailers and online for pharmacy and medical needs (64%), providing an easy, convenient experience (59%) and delivering a fast trip experience (53%). 

[Read more: How can retailers capture growth in consumer health care?]

“We heard repeatedly from drug store shoppers that convenient location, discounted pricing and one-stop shopping are appealing drivers in choosing drug stores over other retail options,” said Kathy Risch, senior vice president of consumer insights and trends at Acosta Group.

Brick-and-mortar shopping:

Today, brick-and-mortar stores account for most of the drug store channel sales. One in three shoppers lives less than a mile from a drug store. Most belong to the retailers’ loyalty programs, with a smaller percentage actively using the digital app.

Three categories represent the leading in-store purchases:     

  • 71% of shoppers pick up prescriptions;
  • 70% shop the pharmacy area for non-prescription needs;
  • 69% shop for groceries, personal needs or other needs for themselves or their families, with candy, snacks and household items such as hair care, body care and paper products,  as top buys;  
  • These are frequent shoppers, with 58% shopping drug stores two-to-three times monthly;
  •  This past year, one-third of younger shoppers have increased their number of store trips; and  
  • Signaling a continued focus on health and wellness, 33% of total drug store shoppers also are using in-store medical services more this year. 

Key in-store benefits include:

  • 57% of shoppers noted convenience;
  • 51% noted good promotions and sales – though this was less important to Gen Z and males;
  • 44% noted the ability to quickly shop for what they need; and   
  • Shoppers said opportunities for improvement include adding more staff members, reducing out of stocks and improving the online ordering experience. shopping:

The Acosta Group study reflects that while 60% of drug store shoppers have used a retail site, Millennials and Gen Z shoppers are currently more likely to purchase on these sites than other generations.

[Read more: Drug chains are capturing consumer attention]

“As we work with our clients, we are focusing on the importance of the omnichannel experience to grow opportunities within small format retail,” said Shannon Hodock, senior vice president of client development at Acosta Group. “Critical to success in drug stores is bridging the gap between the physical and digital shelf to meet the way consumers want to shop this channel.”    

Three categories represent the leading online purchases:

  • 61% of shoppers purchase groceries or other household items;
  • 55% order prescriptions for pick-up or delivery; and
  • 49% shop the pharmacy area for other needs.

These shoppers said it was easy to shop sites, but only about half said the online ordering process fully met their expectations. And while edited in-store selections were appreciated, online shopping provides an opportunity to introduce new products. 

Similar to in-store shoppers, benefits include:

  • 38% noted good promotions and sales;  
  • 30% noted convenience of the shopping experience; and   
  • 30% noted the ability to quickly shop for what they need.   

Key learnings for retailers:  

  • Retailers will benefit from ensuring adequate staffing to maintain shoppers’ preference for the channel’s “quick trip” format. In addition, ensuring broad assortment, especially across  HBC, and avoiding out-of-stocks will drive sales for non-pharmacy needs like grocery and personal care; and  
  • More can be done to leverage loyalty programs, digital apps and online shopping, encouraging shopper retention and engagement and providing retailers’ best customers the best promotions.

“Because of our unique and deep knowledge of both brands and retailers, Acosta Group is able to deliver individualized programs that incorporate our thought leadership, business insights, digital commerce, sales, marketing and merchandising capabilities to drive client growth,” said Hodock. 

Acosta Group’s Drug Store Channel Shopper Insights Study was conducted from Feb. 14-23, 2023, with 1,134 primary household shoppers ages 18+ that are part of the company’s proprietary shopper community.   

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