Retail

Digital Declutters The Medicine Cabinet

If there’s one overarching focus of life during the coronavirus pandemic, boiled down, it would be focusing on the essentials — ordered online and delivered to the doorstep, with minimal touch points.

The shift from offline to online commerce across all manner of activities that once took place largely in person, in brick-and-mortar settings will be long-lived. Perhaps permanent.

By way of example, PYMNTS found in one recent consumer survey that 32 percent of us will look to do more from the confines of the home, and we're venturing out less often to get what we need at physical storefronts.

We might not, in the age of social distancing, be crowding the aisles of our favorite local haunts anytime soon.

That includes the neighborhood pharmacy (or, depending on your neighborhood, pharmacy chain).

In the best of times, shopping for over-the-counter (OTC) essentials — marked by inventories of literally thousands of items and harried pharmacists — had turned into what Achal Patel, co-founder and CEO of online direct-to-consumer (D2C) pharmacy Cabinet, termed a “dehumanized” experience.

Cabinet, he told Karen Webster in an interview, offers 30 OTC medicines with Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved ingredients (and thus equivalent to brand names) individually or through curated kits.

In one example of the kits, the firm’s Preparedness Kit includes hand sanitizer and medicines it says can help “alleviate cold and flu like symptoms … bundled for convenience to avoid the unwanted pharmacy or grocery store run.”

Patel said that the target audience for the D2C medicine cabinet lies with 25- to 40-year-old consumers, who tend to be new parents.

As he told Webster, “these consumers are at this inflection point in their lives where taking care of someone else is critically important to them.”

He added that the D2C model allows firms like Cabinet to pivot quickly and offer bundled kits that fit a particular need. For example, in this age of heightened anxiety and stress, the company’s sleep kit is in particularly high demand.

Asked by Webster about the challenges of selling OTC medicine D2C that is not tied to brand names most immediately recognizable to most of us — Johnson & Johnson, say, or Bayer — he said, “At the core, there's a question around ‘Can I trust this [new] brand?’ And I think in the direct-to-consumer space and with new brands in general, that is important.”

He went on to state that “there's a reality where we as a country, we have been exposed to decades of marketing from existing brands and have built an understanding that acetaminophen and is actually Tylenol and ibuprofen is actually Advil.”

In other words, we conflate active ingredients with brand names.

But as he told Webster, allowing consumers to search by brand names — Tylenol, for example, which displays Cabinet’s comparable pain reliever and fever reducer — or by symptoms, helps them understand what they need, what the active ingredients are, and whether they need one-off purchases or the kits.

He said trust is also further cemented by the knowledge that the company’s offerings are made in FDA-certified facilities, and that Cabinet operates as a LegitScript-certified online pharmacy. There’s also a drive to reduce packaging and carbon footprint.

“The long-term ambition for the service is you can buy a Cabinet kit, it goes in your medicine cabinet, and then you can get refills as needed, without having to buy additional plastic bottles,” he told Webster. “That's something that we're working on from a product perspective.”

Refining The D2C Experience

The pandemic has shown the resilience and flexibility of the online D2C model, contended Patel. He told Webster that the last several weeks have spurred Cabinet to quickly adjust its pricing and preparedness kits. The company, he said, has been testing new delivery approaches to make OTC medicine available more quickly to consumers.

That includes piloting a same-day, 30-day delivery service with Uber in New York City, with an eye on scaling that delivery window for customers who might need help a little faster than a two- to three-day delivery time.

With a nod toward OTC moving increasingly online, he said, up till now “there was this inertia of doing things the old way. That’s been broken along with some areas of purchasing habits, and we anticipate that continuing to be true even in a post-COVID-19 world.”

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