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Rowlands boss: We are not threatened by growth of online pharmacies

Mark Bather: You have to look at your business and ask, "how can we provide the best service?"
Mark Bather: You have to look at your business and ask, "how can we provide the best service?"

Rowlands does not view online pharmacies as a threat to its business and its viability, the multiple’s managing director Mark Bather has told C+D.

In the last few years, much has been said within community pharmacy about the growing online pharmacy sector and the detrimental impact it could have on its bricks-and-mortar competitors.

Speaking exclusively to C+D in the summer (July 27), Rowlands managing director Mark Bather said that while it “would be foolish to underestimate anybody in the market”, Rowlands is not intimidated by the growth of digital companies like Pharmacy2U or the potential launch of Amazon Pharmacy in the UK.

“I think you have to give great respect to the likes of Amazon for the job they’ve done and I admire a lot of the work that they’ve done,” Mr Bather said of the company, which filed a trademark for “Amazon Pharmacy” in the UK, Canada and Australia in January this year.

“There are businesses out there that have capacity to build growth [but] no, I don't feel threatened”, he added.

The issue, he said, is not how well other businesses are delivering, but the extent to which you are offering your own customers what they need.

“It’s about our business and what we do"

“We’ve got to look at ourselves and say, how can we provide the best service? [If] your service provision is poor or your availability is poor, or you don’t do what [customers] ask, [they] will go to a different service provider,” Mr Bather said.

This is the same in all sectors and, in the case of Rowlands, this could mean customers switching to “Boots, Lloydspharmacy or Well, [or] it might be Pharmacy2U,”he added.

The focus for Rowlands is on the company’s own performance and ensuring it delivers for customers. “It’s about our business and what we do, which will make the difference,” Mr Bather said.

Last week (October 5), Rowlands announced it had resumed plans to reduce opening hours for around 75% of its branches in England. The proposal, first announced in early March, was later paused due to COVID-19, but the multiple this week said it is now looking at implementing the cut in opening hours from February next year, to “reflect what the NHS has asked contractually [for] us to provide and is prepared to fund”.

Last month (September 30), C+D reported that online operator Pharmacy2U had been reported to the General Pharmaceutical Council by the National Pharmacy Association and the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies for an ad campaign in which the representative bodies argued Pharmacy2U made “misleading claims”.

In the campaign, Pharmacy2U claims to have been paid over £9.5 million less in fees than high street pharmacies since April 2014, based on the cost to the NHS of fees per item.

Read about Mr Bather’s plans for Rowlands, his views on community pharmacy funding and whether there is any risk of redundancies and closures at the multiple in C+D’s exclusive interview with the managing director.

Are you concerned about the impact of online pharmacies on your business?

C A, Community pharmacist

So the boss of a company that's reducing hours at all its branches isn't threatened by online providers? 

I'm not sure I believe him, the covid crisis has increased demand for online pharmacies, and once those customers are gone I'm not sure Rowlands will get them back. P2U might even become profitable! 

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