More than two years on, the story has become familiar. In early 2020, Covid-19 rewrote the rules of digital retail as many scrambled into uncharted territory to survive.
As a result, we’ve seen years’ worth of digital adoption take place within months, as businesses have scrambled to pivot to save themselves. However, this narrative belies the underlying change that had already been reshaping business for decades, especially in the retail industry.
- By 2026, global ecommerce payment transactions are estimated to exceed US$7.5 trillion by 2026, a 55% increase from the US$4.9 trillion spent in 2021.
- In the UK, e-retail giant Amazon’s sales are 82% higher than they were pre-pandemic; and
- Irish ecommerce spending on local websites has risen by 41%.
These numbers are all underpinned by two significant factors: digital retailers’ strong emphasis on omnichannel experiences, prompted by a seachange in how customers access goods and services.
Customers are spending 10% more money online, while 89% of them are more likely to be loyal to brands with strong omnichannel strategies. As a result, retailers were forced to learn that consumers don’t just want convenient retail options. They want experiences that are diverse, personalised and seamless.
For pharmacies, specifically, these lessons are instructive on the lessons digital retail can teach in the post-Covid future.
Pharmacies’ legacy systems
It’s not quite accurate to say that pharmacies have completely ignored digital solutions.
Currently, most chain and community pharmacies rely on a clutch of online systems. Typically, they are used to help support their daily work, such as solutions for managing patients’ information.
The first computerised patient management systems emerged in the 1970s. Prior to that, most patient data management systems were primarily paper-based and manual. These digital solutions were often small-scale and aimed at solving defined problems. However, over time they scaled to cover more security and sorting capabilities. Eventually, they grew to include a range of other functions, such as prescription verification and drug utilisation reviews.
Common problems associated with legacy systems
The status quo of pharmacies’ digital systems cannot live up to the increasingly sophisticated needs of pharmacies today. As a result of the approach taken in the 1970s, many purpose-built, legacy systems are too rigid. This means that they cannot be integrated with one another. They tend to be clunky and not user-intuitive. They also tend to rely on pharmacists manually toggling between applications.
As a result, even seemingly simple tasks like logging patients’ changing prescriptions or ringing up an order for a repeat customer can take a lot of time to accomplish. This causes a number of problems:
- More human error. By being forced to move between application windows, pharmacists can easily lose their grasp on the details of things. This leads to the potential for more gaps and mistakes, and maybe even more double-work.
- Wasting precious time and resources. Chunks of time are spent doubling back over different applications. This can eventually add up to significant amounts of wasted resources and effort, leading to inefficient workflows.
- Poor customer experiences. As customer demand increasingly shifts towards digital and convenient experiences, having clunky and user-unfriendly systems can massively backfire on pharmacies, pushing patients towards competitors.
For many pharmacies, the shift away from legacy systems can be daunting. This may be due to the cost and effort needed to get up and running. However, sticking with outdated, siloed systems is no longer a feasible strategy either.
Solutions for a future-forward pharmacy
In many ways, the tech problems currently plaguing pharmacies are not dissimilar from those faced by retailers not too long ago. Even a decade ago, most retailers had only the most basic of digital platforms.
However, growing customer demand and Covid-as-accelerant have pushed them to upgrade their legacy systems. This is needed to create more personalised experiences rotting in cutting-edge tech like big data, social media, and artificial intelligence. Luckily for pharmacies looking to update their legacy systems, similar tech is coming to market to help.
These integrated platforms empower pharmacies of all sizes. They do this by using customisable and user-intuitive workflows that remain flexible and open to manage the demands of pharmacies’ increasingly service-focused future. Despite the widespread disruption enabled by the pandemic, digitisation can be a growth opportunity for pharmacies, not just a lifeline. Integrated platforms allow us to:
- Empower labour-limited pharmacies with the power to easily cross-check data for better inventory;
- Save time by removing the need to juggle multiple applications; and
- Take out the tedium of the everyday grind so pharmacists can focus on doing the valuable work of caring for patients.
3 Lessons from digital retail
It can be overwhelming to think about the myriad solutions available to pharmacies today. But the trajectory of the ecommerce industry has many lessons to offer. Here is a brief rundown of the different digital solutions adopted by retailers today, and how they can be adapted to support the needs of your community pharmacy.
1. Inventory management
For any inventory-based business, managing stock is key. Inventory often represents one of the biggest costs for retailers, whether you’re a fashion outlet or a community pharmacy. Big data is transforming inventory management by using historical data to create predictions of what customers buy. Thus, retailers can purchase just the right amount.
Pharmacies can adopt similar strategies by integrating inventory optimisation platforms with their patient management systems. By enabling these two systems to talk to one another, they can better understand what patients want. In addition, they can tailor stocks to their repeat custom bases.
2. Online storefronts
Potentially the biggest transformation for retailers in the digital age came about with the emergence of the digital storefront. At the vanguard of this movement is Shopify. Shopify “outfoxed” tech giants by arming small businesses with the tools to instantly become an online store by integrating inventory management and payments within a single interface.
Shopify’s success proved that one of the most important things a business can do for themselves is to create an easy-to-access digital platform for customers to browse and make purchases.
Pharmacies can learn from this by adopting a digital presence where they can list their operating times and services, and empower customers to order prescriptions, purchase beauty or wellness products, or book appointments online. With an online storefront, pharmacies also break the barrier between them and patients by enabling them to access goods and services outside operating hours.
For example, by enabling patients to select their own flu or Covid vaccine appointments via a digital platform, pharmacies can more effectively allocate their slots and reduce the labour for pharmacies taking bookings via phone. Patients can make bookings from the comfort of their homes, without having to come in-store or incur long wait times on the phone.
3. Digitalised payment gateways
Payments remain the biggest opportunity in today’s ecommerce market for users to make the biggest leaps. For retailers, improvements in payments were rooted in giving more diverse and localised options to customers to make digital payments beyond credit/debit cards. Now, there are options for customers to pay with innovative solutions like buy now, pay later, e-wallets, carrier billing, and so on.
Pharmacies could benefit from offering more payment options, as they could potentially skirt the costs of running card machines, while opening up avenues for more digital customers. However, more than that, they would be increasing the opportunities for customers to engage with their business beyond regular store hours. This isn’t just about omnichannel retail, but recognising that different customers want personalised experiences, and technology can offer a way to meet those needs.
The realities of our post-pandemic time are still coming into fruition, but it’s clear that digital retail is charting a path that has many lessons for the pharmacy industry to learn. Retail has had to pivot quickly to ensure its survival after Covid arrived, much in the same way the pharmacy industry has had to.
As both industries look towards their futures, there are still many more lessons to learn. To stay up to date with these valuable industry insights, make sure to join our online community!
Unsplash Images courtesy of Bench Accounting, Wesley Tingey and Olav Ahren Rotne.
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