Pharmacists have agreed they need to attract customers online but some are unconvinced that the NPA's scheme to provide its independent members with a ‘click and collect' service is the solution.
Some pharmacists praised the scheme, which will provide contractors with a website that offers patients home delivery and click and collect services on an extended range of products, as way to engage with customers online.
Opinion is split over the benefits of the NPA's click and collect scheme, with some contractors disputing the value it would offer independents and their customers
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But others were concerned that the NPA's partnership with online pharmacy TheHealthcounter.com – which was set up by Day Lewis – to deliver the scheme meant it would not benefit individual contractors.
The service would "level the playing field" between independent pharmacies and the major retailers by allowing independents to offer a range of products from TheHealthcounter.com that they could not afford to stock themselves, NPA director of membership Carol Kennedy Filer said at the launch of the scheme last week.
Locum pharmacist Chizoba Maduwuba questioned why the NPA had endorsed the scheme.
"Independents definitely need an online presence, but whether to do it by sending your customers to buy [someone else's] stock is an issue worth contemplating," she said, posting on C+D's website.
Pharmacist Rajive Patel posted that in most cases he could find a cheaper supplier than the offers the NPA was promoting.
Many pharmacists had already tried and failed to engage with online markets, said community pharmacist Pankaj Sodha.
"I have seen many pharmacies develop their own website or buy a generic template from an IT provider. Of the 1,500 or so websites in the UK, only a handful have visitors," he wrote.
Numark director of marketing Lynne Armstrong said that although it was vital for pharmacists to have an online presence, their priority should be attracting customers into the pharmacy.
"A full e-commerce model is not something we would recommend unless you have the infrastructure, logistics and buying power to manage this effectively," she told C+D.
But pharmacist Raj Patel, who has piloted the NPA website scheme for the Mount Elgon pharmacy group, said its click and collect model was one way for pharmacists to encourage new patients to visit the pharmacy.
"You have patients that never come to the pharmacy. When they click and collect, you've got a new customer," he told C+D.
Pharmacists needed to realise that engaging with customers through mobile electronic devices was becoming the norm, said pharmacist Graham Phillips of Manor Pharmacy Group (Wheathampstead) Ltd, Hertfordshire.
"[The NPA scheme] looks pretty good to me. Why wouldn't you try it?" he told C+D.
Pharmacy manager Natasha Slater of NHA pharmacy in Northampton agreed there needed to be a greater focus on online markets.
"It's pretty tough to compete. When you look at Boots, they've got thousands of [products] on there, but sometimes their website is a bit too complex," she told C+D.
"You've got to assess what products you are going to sell [and] what your staff know about," she added.
The click and collect model is already used by major retailers such as Alliance Boots. It remains very popular with its customers and comprised around 45 per cent of its online sales in 2012-13, the health and beauty giant said in its financial report this week.
Retailers such as Tesco and Asda were developing their click and collect services "at a pace" and were expected to broaden the appeal of online grocery by providing collection points in shopping centres, schools and offices, said Richard Wallace, senior business analyst at retail analysis company IGD.
What are the advantages or disadvantages of the NPA's click and collect scheme?