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‘It’s easier to get a burger delivered home than it is urgent medication. That has to change’

I might be biased, says Graham Smith upfront, but community pharmacy could easily capitalise on its many strengths by honing its medicines delivery services

For many patients, getting hold of their prescription medicines still involves a trip to their local chemist. It might be one around the corner or a bit further afield; it’s an experience that hasn’t changed in decades. While they’re waiting, they might pick up a few general personal care or over-the-counter items. It’s a routine that’s testament to a core strength of community pharmacy: its incredible footprint across the UK’s high streets.

Elsewhere on the high street, digital disruption has upended behaviours. Online shopping, click and collect, grocery delivery at home, checkout-free stores. Add to that the might of Amazon and the experience is definitely not one our grandparents would recognise. Convenience is the name of the game, together with an expectation for goods to arrive at breakneck speed.

Disruption is coming to prescription medicines too. Amazon is making its move and new online pharmacies are entering the market, working to the expectation levels set by grocery and fast-food retailers. It’s still early days, but traditional community pharmacies need to act now to grab the opportunity and prevent a future decline and ask themselves how they can compete in this changing landscape.

Pharmacies can offer online access to prescription medicines as well as the range of goods typically sold in the pharmacy branch. If successful, this has the potential to trigger a revolution in how consumers engage with their local chemist, offering more and better choice both online and face to face.

Now, as strategic director of Gophr – the company that supports Phlo Pharmacy with its same-day delivery service – I am of course a little biased, but change on this magnitude across the whole pharmacy sector will require fresh thinking and entrepreneurial endeavour, underpinned by brilliant technology.

Crucially though, the most important piece of the puzzle is already in place. Pharmacies are everywhere and that local structure, with its tight inventory and superb stock levels, is everything you need to be able to operate on a same-day delivery basis, getting prescription medicines – even acute medicines in some instances – to patients within just a few hours, wherever they might be in the country. As things currently stand, it’s easier to get a burger delivered home than it is an urgent medication. That has to change!

 

“Getting medicines deliveries right is business critical” 

 

Delivery might not be sexy, but when it goes like clockwork, it takes customer experience to the next level. Conversely, when it goes wrong, it can destroy consumer trust forever. For pharmacy, getting it right is business critical. While Amazon, fast-food and grocery retailing set the standards for speed and ease, a completely different set of protocols and criteria are needed for the delivery of prescription medicines.

It might be OK to ring the doorbell and leave a pizza on the doorstep, or to push an Amazon package through the letter box, but every medicine has to be delivered into the right hands, without exception. The consequences of not doing so are too awful to consider. Quite simply, the doorstep experience must replicate the security protocols that are in place in the pharmacy. That requires layers of protection built into the system to uphold standards and protect the reputation and USP of the pharmacy and its clinical skills. That is the job of the technology that integrates with the online ordering platform.

There are other headwinds that are driving the opportunity. Virtual GP appointments, a continued nervousness to shop in busy environments and reduced car use combined with dark nights and winter ailments means there’s never been a better time to make a case for online pharmacy underpinned by same-day delivery technology.

Quite simply, community pharmacy is a sector like no other. It has an amazing footprint and an ever-growing customer base. Organising itself for an online future will help drive future growth, monetising delivery by using some of the upselling strategies popularised by Amazon to drive basket size. The reassurance that comes from buying from an expert with valued clinical skills and deep knowledge is unique to this sector and signals to the consumer they are in good hands. Long live the local community pharmacy, online and offline.

 

Graham Smith is strategic account director at delivery technology company Gophr

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