Technology is changing at an ever-increasing pace. New developments are being launched all the time and it can be difficult to keep up, let alone harness them for use in your business. But experts at Alliance Boots and Numark believe it is important to make the effort – because failing to capitalise on the digital arena could actually lose you customers.
1. Know the market
Firstly, you need to understand how reliant your customers are on technology, says Stephen Lofthouse, head of independents at Alliance Boots. He says a quarter of UK consumers believe online is the most convenient way to shop and this is reflected in their consumption of technology: 80 per cent regularly use the internet, while 60 per cent have a smartphone. Mr Lofthouse says these figures are proof that customers in the UK are among “the most internet-savvy” in the world.
2. Ensure your website does you justice
Simply having a website for your pharmacy is no longer enough, Mr Lofthouse stresses. In fact, having a tired and dated website is “worse than having no website at all” because it may lose you customers. It is also worth keeping in mind that your site may need to be usable on several different platforms. “If your website is not optimised for use on a smartphone, then it’s completely useless for 60 per cent of your customers,” Mr Lofthouse says.
Numark’s director of marketing Mandeep Mudhar echoes the point. “Your website represents you,” he stresses. “Just as you put time and effort into your pharmacy premises to ensure they meet the highest standards, the website should be no different.” Customers will instantly see if your website is out-of-date, he warns, and will simply go elsewhere.
3. Use social media wisely
All too often businesses jump on the social media bandwagon without knowing how to truly use it to their advantage. Mr Mudhar says it is important to understand the distinct benefits of each medium. Twitter, for example, is good for promoting “specific activities”. Facebook, on the other hand, can be useful for promoting your pharmacy events.
“Why don’t you create an event around your pharmacy, such as blood pressure monitoring or diabetes testing, and get staff and their families to join that [on Facebook]?” Mr Mudhar suggests. “You can build a local community and create a buzz around your pharmacy.” This strategy has helped Numark pharmacies remain competitive in the past. “I know members have been threatened by competition from 100-hour pharmacies and they have used Facebook very effectively to create a community,” he says.
4. Capitalise on the available tools
There are plenty of free tools available to help you make the most of your website, says Mr Mudhar. Google Analytics is free to use on a basic level – which he believes is enough for a small business. “It will tell you who is coming to your site and the various channels they are using – whether mobile phones or LinkedIn – so it gives you a really good sense of the type of person coming onto the website,” he explains.
The tool also shows you the most popular areas of your online offering, which can help focus your efforts. “For example, if it’s your flu vaccination section, you should make sure it’s the most relevant and appealing,” Mr Mudhar advises.
5. Integrate online and offline
Once you’ve secured business from online customers, make sure they aren’t disappointed when they arrive in your bricks-and-mortar pharmacy. If you have a slick section on your site about flu vaccination, your service should be equally slick. Mr Mudhar stresses that the impressions formed by your new customers can make all the difference to your business. “If they are coming into your pharmacy as a result of being directed from the website, what a fantastic opportunity to make them yours for everything you do,” he says.
Stephen Lofthouse spoke at the Avicenna conference in Cyprus on May 26