Independent Pharmacy Insights

Virtual Retail Pharmacy: Can You Survive Amazon’s Disruption to the Traditional Pharmacy Structure?

  December 27, 2017  

Virtual Retail Pharmacy- Surviving Amazon’s Disruption to the Traditional Pharmacy Structure  blog-01.png

Independent and specialty pharmacies have always had their share of obstacles in the industry. Over the past few years, hurdles such as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), smaller, more-focused markets, short shelf lives, and maintaining a healthy, strong drug supply chain have all presented their challenges. Pharmacy experts have examined, discussed, and addressed this issue in myriad creative and thoughtful ways; ways that benefit not only the pharmacy but (and most importantly) their customers, as well.

True to the flexibility independent pharmacies have had to demonstrate over the years, there has been an industry-wide display of drive and determination to not only survive these disruptors, but to uncover how these changes can be harnessed and leveraged in ways that allow smaller businesses to thrive.  It has become second nature because the disruptor looms and the pharmacy squints in acknowledgement, while simultaneously beginning to formulate a plan that positions the disruption to its advantage.

Technology is the elephant in the room. Local independent pharmacies rely on their personal touches, their one-on-one contacts with customers to be their draw and their edge. For now, this works, and it works well.  However, with Amazon – the online retail giant that sells everything from jewelry to baby-wipes – poised to disrupt the pharmacy market, the drums in the distance are growing louder as things are about to get a serious shake up.

What Amazon Does WellVirtual Retail Pharmacy- Surviving Amazon’s Disruption to the Traditional Pharmacy Structure  blog-02.png

There are many things that Amazon’s business model does well, such as:

  • Technology
  • Customer Service
  • And Innovation

To stay relevant in the business community today, these three tenets of business represent the trifecta of a winning combination. So, when buzz in the business world circles around any new Amazon venture, palms get sweaty and cold chills race down the spine of just about every small business owner in the country. Amazon is the feared juggernaut; an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.  But is it, really? 

There’s no question that Amazon does technology well – very well. And technology is most definitely a concept with which smaller, community pharmacies struggle. Innovation also is an area that Amazon has roped into its advantage.  And, finally, customer service at the online retail giant ranks quite high.

While this all may sound daunting, independent, local and community pharmacies, that draw on the same drive and determination we spoke about earlier, will recognize that Amazon’s entry into the pharmacy market will be an unprecedented opportunity to grow their own businesses even further.

Virtual Retail Pharmacy- Surviving Amazon’s Disruption to the Traditional Pharmacy Structure  blog-03 (1).pngWhat Independent, Local, and Community Pharmacies Do Well

Let’s face it. If a small, community pharmacy tried to take on Amazon’s speed and technology, things could get pretty bleak in a relatively short time period.   But there are several areas where local pharmacies shine. They include:

  • Innovation
  • Adaptability
  • And customer service

Let’s talk about customer service first.  Amazon has an amazing, top-of-the-line automated customer service platform.  But did you ever try to get a hold of a live person? This is where Amazon falls flat, and community pharmacies shine. Community pharmacies can deliver in-person care.

When all is said and done, customers need human interaction, and they’re not getting that with Amazon – yet.  That may change in the future with Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, and the possibility of a brick-and-mortar location but, for now, independent pharmacies dominate the customer service edge over the giant online retailer.

Now, let’s talk about what’s missing from the independent's list: technology. Amazon has this area locked down over its competition. In fact, public perception of independent pharmacies is one of being behind the technological curve.  While it’s true that smaller pharmacies are not nearly as technologically-advanced as Amazon, with a little innovation, key pieces of technology can be deployed strategically within a community pharmacy, providing customers with convenience and additional time-saving options.

Add to this the fact that smaller pharmacies can implement technology in a fraction of the time it would take larger retail chains to do the same, these smaller pharmacies are looking better and better to the local consumer’s eye.

Closing Thoughts

Independent pharmacies have already done the hard work of forming relationships with members of their communities.  They know their customers by sight; they remember their issues and they can find out information that big box technology just can’t uncover without pages and pages of intrusive questionnaires.

Through a joint approach that includes continued cultivation of these relationships and opening up to technology, community pharmacies can position themselves as both innovators and leaders in the industry – galvanizing their pharmacies’ relevancies and reputations as being the go-to authorities on healthcare for their communities.

Are there any technology based applications and systems your pharmacy currently employs? What forms of technology do you utilize and how have they impacted – positively or negatively – your community relationships or standing? We’d love to know and may even share those experiences in future blog posts, white papers, and e-books. If you’d like to add your experience, please contact brosario@alliantrx.com.

To be sure, with Amazon's entry into the pharmacy arena, there will be many possible disruptions for us to discuss. Be sure to follow this blog for more information regarding Amazon’s possible entry into the pharmaceutical market – all from your partners at AlliantRx.

Sources:

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2013/09/24/6-things-online-retailers-can-learn-from-amazon/#6a4d1bf2237b
  2. http://www.pharmacytimes.com/interviews/competitive-advantages-of-independent-pharmacies-versus-retail-chains
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2017/11/28/why-community-pharmacies-are-not-susceptible-to-an-amazon-takeover/#294bc5313b28
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