Whichever way you look at it, the coming year will be an uncertain period for the UK’s pharmacies. Owners and managers are already under pressure to meet tough business targets with reduced resources, and impending funding cuts are likely to exacerbate this problem in a big way. Independent, community pharmacies are likely to be hit hardest.
The Department of Health (DH) will cut pharmacy funding in England by 12% tomorrow (December 1). The sector is set to receive up to £113 million less funding than expected between now and next March, and a staggering £95m less the following year.
To adapt to this new operating landscape, many of the UK’s pharmacies are embracing value-added services – such as smoking cessation or obesity clinics – to supplement their income, while reducing overheads in other areas. This attitude of innovation will serve pharmacies well, as long as cutting outgoings does not risk patient safety or make existing pharmacy services a less attractive offer in comparison with competitors.
A recent C+D survey found that the number one way pharmacists are likely to seek to cut back costs is by reducing medicine deliveries to patients’ homes. Almost two fifths of pharmacists (39%) felt they needed to reconsider their current delivery offering in light of diminished funding.
Delivery is a fundamental expectation of modern customers, who are used to convenience being one of the most important factors in how businesses engage with them. It’s also a basic necessity for the elderly or infirm, who rely on the delivery of medication and will have no choice but to switch to an alternative pharmacy or use online pharmacies to service repeat prescriptions.
It’s possible for pharmacies to turn this time of uncertainty into one of opportunity, but the issue of home delivery illustrates the balance that they will need to strike to succeed; that of addressing both the population’s needs as patients and their demands as consumers.
Putting the customer first
The DH has argued that its funding changes will simply reward the pharmacies that offer the highest quality service, alluding to the increased competition that its move will introduce to the sector. This means that, although the industry as a whole will be put under more pressure, those pharmacies that are able to secure the loyalty of existing patients while attracting new custom have a huge opportunity to grow market share.
In today’s fast-paced, digital-first world, one way that pharmacies can ensure they flourish in a more competitive environment is to learn from the way in which businesses in other sectors have used convenience as a tool to differentiate their offering. The retail sector in particular has recognised that time is consumers’ most precious commodity, and that introducing services tailored to their customers’ personal preferences and circumstances can improve brand perception and loyalty, in addition to driving new customer acquisition.
Home deliveries that are flexible enough to meet a range of needs are a simple way for pharmacies to add value to their core services, demonstrate that customer convenience is at the heart of their offering and improve loyalty. In turn, this will put them in the best possible position to sustain or grow their business in challenging times.
Darren Taylor is chief development officer at CitySprint Healthcare
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