Today when walking into a pharmacy, you would be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into a retail variety store, surrounded by shelving, displays and bulk stacks filled with a wide range of retail products. Everything from cosmetics to food items, gift ideas to cleaning products, they take up much of the front of the store. The dispensary generally occupies a small area at the rear, with traditional pharmacy items taking a back seat.
This focus on retail has a lot to do with the pharmacy industry experiencing a reduction in profits in recent years, largely due to the prices of common prescription medications being lowered as part of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). In response, pharmacies have had to find new ways to regain profits, with those failing to adapt or innovate, struggling to stay afloat.
Filling the shop floor with retail products has become a popular solution, in the hope of attracting a larger number of customers into the store, as well as encouraging additional purchases while customers wait for their scripts to be filled or, enter the pharmacy to purchase a single item.
This change has seen a shift in the role of Pharmacy Assistants whose sole responsibility once upon a time, was to provide customers with advice about their medications and pharmacy items in relation to their health conditions. Whereas today, they are expected to sell a wide range of products that aren’t necessarily ‘must have’ items, requiring a completely different set of skills.
In fact they require sales skills, such as being able to uncover customers’ wants and not just their medical or health needs, as well as build value in products, encouraging customers to not only purchase one item but the complete solution. Showing companion items on the retail shop floor and from the dispensary to ensure customers obtain the best health outcome possible, is a big part of ensuring complete customer satisfaction as well as increasing profits.
This can be a major hurdle for pharmacy owners, with their staff not seeing themselves as having a sales element to their role and struggling to accept the shift in mindset. These new behaviours and the intent to apply them, can take time and ongoing support to develop.
When a pharmacy has invested a large percentage of their floor space to retail, they also need to invest in training to provide their teams with the skills needed to confidently sell these products, while still maintaining a duty of care and customer focus.
Upon a recent visit to the bank to deposit a cheque, I was advised by the teller all cheques under $5000 were no longer accepted over the counter and I would have to deposit it via the ATM located just outside the door. The helpful teller offered to accompany me outside and show me how it was done.
We waited in line together for over five minutes for a customer who was struggling with his ATM transaction, even though technically she could have processed my cheque within moments at the counter, allowing me to be on my way sooner however, she apologetically explained this was now against company guidelines.
A few days later at my local Big W store, I approached the registers with my purchase and was faced with the option of no queue at the self-serve registers, while multiple customers lined up waiting to be served at the one and only staffed checkout open. I opted to wait in line for a person to serve me, just like numerous other customers, while the self-service registers stood idle.
I then encountered exactly the same thing at the supermarket, where people were opting to wait in line for a checkout operated by an employee, rather than processing their own purchase at one of the multiple self-serve registers available.
It dawned on me, it wasn’t customers driving the increase of self-serve technology in bricks and mortar stores, rather businesses pushing people towards this option by giving them little choice or in some cases like the bank, no choice at all.
Certainly people in recent times have enjoyed the convenience of online shopping, taking themselves through the entire purchasing process however, when they actually take the time to visit a store or branch, they seemingly still prefer to be served by a person rather than a machine.
We even see customers becoming annoyed when less staff are employed at the expense of technology, some even boycotting self-serve registers or the business altogether.
It’s no argument, it’s tough for business facing increasing cost of wages among other challenges but if they choose to push customers in a direction they don’t really want to go and customers see little point of difference or benefit in visiting a bricks and mortar location, they will do nothing but push people towards shopping online. Or, towards a competitor who is bravely standing out from the crowd and giving people what they want and that is old fashioned customer service by a human being.