Pretty much everyone needs medicine at one or another, and that need is helping to drive retail innovation and attempts at disruption in the pharmacy business. Those moves come amid more pressure on brick-and-mortar pharmacy operations.
The latest evidence of that comes from Walgreens. After its parent company announced plans earlier this year to close 200 stores in the United Kingdom, Walgreens is looking to shutter 200 locations in the United States. The pharmacy chain aims to save $1.5 billion by fiscal 2022 in annual expenses.
Walgreens said in a statement, according to the outlet, “As previously announced, we are undertaking a transformational cost management program to accelerate the ongoing transformation of our business, enable investments in key areas and to become a more efficient enterprise.” A spokesperson for the pharmacy chain said it doesn’t intend to release a full list of store closures.
The store closures are said to comprise under 3 percent of the company’s 10,000 United States locations. In a statement, as reported by the outlet, Walgreens anticipates “minimal disruption to customers and patients.” It also foresees retaining “the majority” of employees in locations that are in close proximity. The news represents the biggest round of store closures for Walgreens since 2015.
But innovation efforts continue for retail pharmacy operations. For instance, to provide medications to customers in a matter of hours, CVS Pharmacy said earlier this year that it is rolling out same-day prescription deliveries. Shoppers can access the offering at 6,000 pharmacy locations with the help of Shipt.
Shipt will deliver the prescriptions through the offering, which comes at a cost of $7.99. (Customers who are seeking a less expensive option or don’t need their medications as quickly can still tap into the $4.99 one- to two-day delivery option.) Shoppers can tap into the on-demand delivery offering through the CVS pharmacy app, a phone call to the local pharmacy or an SMS text. Beyond prescriptions, shoppers can add products such as allergy medications and cold and flu remedies to their orders for delivery.
That’s not the only area of innovation in this part of the retail world. Among the latest moves? The deployment in South Africa of what some observers are calling ATMs for medicine.
A report from the Financial Times offers one of the better descriptions of the project, meant to ease certain pressures on the South African healthcare system and provide more options for consumers to get the medication they need without having to take too much time off work or waste time traveling to, and waiting inside, doctors’ offices. More specifically, the machines, or what can reasonably be described as self-service pharmacies, also could “give patients with chronic illnesses such as HIV, hypertension and diabetes easier access to medication.” South Africa has the highest number of people with HIV of any country.
Officially, the ATM-like machines are called Pharmacy Dispensing Units. They cost about $159,000 each are being funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and other global organizations. To use such a machine, a patient must secure a prescription from a doctor, and then scan at the machine a barcode or pharmacy card, according to the report. The machines have Skype-like capabilities, and that enables patients to consult with pharmacists before receiving their medications. “The units then use robotic technology to label and dispense the medication, and a follow-up appointment is confirmed by receipt,” the report said, adding that the process can take about three minutes, as opposed to to hours for other medication-fulfillment processes.
Expect other retail pharmacy moves as a new decade dawns.