Big Or Small, Pharmacy Success Often Equates To Offering Convenience

It’s a tough time to be a small pharmacy, with national chains like CVS and Walgreens dominating two-thirds of the prescription drug market in the U.S. To stand out from their competition, says Brian Zone, owner and founder of Long Island Apothecary, independent pharmacies must beat the big guys to the punch. In the latest Omni Usage Report, Zone tells PYMNTS how changing customer expectations have pushed small pharmacies to invest in omnichannel features, from digital prescription renewal to delivery.

In the pharmacy business, convenience is often seen as the key to success. Industry giants like CVS Health, Walgreens and Express Scripts, Inc. have become household names, enabling more than 50 percent of prescription drug sales in the U.S. by giving customers what they want most: a smooth, simple experience.

Consumers want to refill prescriptions online or on their mobile phones, and they also want to be able to chat with their pharmacists. Larger brand names have the capital and infrastructure to offer such features, but it’s a lot trickier for independent U.S. pharmacies. These businesses bring in more than $80 billion in annual revenue, but nearly 65 percent of the pharmacy market is owned by industry giants and other major players.

In addition to myriad convenient locations, big pharmacies offer a slew of online and mobile features designed to help simplify the shopping experience. So, how is a small, independent pharmacy supposed to compete?

As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

Small and independent health companies are increasingly keeping up with their competition by rolling out omnichannel features. That includes independent pharmacies like Long Island Apothecary. Since opening its doors just six months ago, it already offers a range of omnichannel services and features, including online prescription refills, mobile capabilities and delivery services.

According to owner and founder Brian Zone, Long Island Apothecary has worked to meet market demands by combining top-flight service with the technology consumers crave.

“Basically, every [pharmacy] has these features now,” he said. “We know the pharmacy industry, so we’ve worked to bring tech experts in to offer the convenience and the experiences that consumers expect.”

For the June Omni Usage Report™, PYMNTS caught up with Zone to learn how the age of convenience is impacting the health retail industry.

Making Prescription Drugs Go Digital 

Whether shopping online or purchasing products with a few taps on their mobile devices, consumers seem to value convenience over almost all else — and shopping for prescriptions is no different.

They’ve grown accustomed to the speed and simplicity offered through online and mobile shopping, and expediency expectations are on the rise, Zone noted. Even the pharmaceutical industry has not been immune to this shift.

CVS now offers the option to refill prescriptions online, as do Walgreens and Rite Aid. Many larger players also provide customers with mobile prescription refills and other features through their smartphone apps.

For Long Island Apothecary, staying competitive with big chain pharmacies like CVS and Rite Aid — each of which has a location in the independent pharmacy’s home of Commack, New York — has meant also offering customers the convenience of online prescription refills.

“We wanted to give our patients the ability to order prescriptions or refills whichever way they want,” Zone explained. “If they want to call, they can call. If they want to do it online, they just have to fill out a form on our website.”

The pharmacy offered these features from the very first day it opened its doors, he added, and the company’s 1,000-plus customers were quick to adopt and take advantage of the more personalized experience.

Long Island Apothecary has also worked to match some of the mobile offerings boasted by bigger retail brands. Customers can refill prescriptions via email or text message, for example. By adding connected features, the pharmacy aims to combine the tech-powered convenience of larger players with the personal touch only a small business can provide.

“A lot of big chains offer these features, but they think of you more like a number rather than like a patient,” Zone said. “We spend a lot of time answering questions for customers, explaining their plans or their fees to them, trying to provide them with great, personalized service.”

Keeping Customers Happy and Healthy

Offering online and mobile services wasn’t enough, though. As such, Long Island Apothecary felt compelled to go the extra mile to offer convenient service to its customers. It decided to roll out at-home delivery, Zone explained, a service that allows customers within 15 miles of the pharmacy to have prescription drugs delivered to their door free of charge.

“If you’re sick, you don’t want have to go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription,” he said. “If you’re leaving a doctor’s office or urgent care, you don’t want to have to rush to a pharmacy to pick it up. You’d rather just have it delivered right to your house so you don’t need to do anything else.”

Most recently, the company added a secure messaging platform, known as Klara, to its website. The platform uses a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-certified messaging system, allowing doctors and pharmacists to answer patients’ questions in real time via a chat function.

Looking ahead, Long Island Apothecary plans to add even more mobile and online features as consumers’ demand for convenience evolves. After all, customers are always in search of the simplest way to request what they need, Zone explained.

It appears that old-fashioned, personalized service may be just what small and independent pharmacies need to keep up in the age of convenience and constant innovations.

About the Tracker

The Omni Usage Report™ features industry-spanning research and insights that arm retailers with data to make smarter decisions for enabling omnichannel commerce. 


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