Are Pharmacies in the Business of Prevention or Cure?

Topics: Channel / Retail, Pharmacy, Point of Purchase, Shopper marketing

If shoppers perceive Pharmacy as a place they go to cure their ailments, what can be done to encourage them to also consider your store as a destination for products and services that promote good health? Alison Sinclair, of ShopAbility, discusses – for Retail Pharmacy Magazine.

It’s obvious to say that shoppers go to a pharmacy when they have a medical problem for which they need a cure but you would also expect that a shopper would consider visiting the pharmacy channel to purchase products that promote good health and prevention of medical issues in the first place. Unfortunately this is rarely the case and we rarely see prevention as a motivator for a trip to the pharmacy during our shopper research projects.

Shoppers perceive the pharmacy as the place they visit when they have a problem to solve. “I only go there when I am sick or to have a script filled” seems to be a common attitude towards the channel. But does this need to be the case?

To answer that we should probably think about the channels shoppers choose visit to purchase healthy living categories, or the ones that spring to mind when they are deciding where to shop for these products. The first port of call for shoppers looking for advice and categories such as aromatherapy, skin and body care, sports nutrition, water purification, super foods and organics, etc. is a health food store. They also shop for categories such as vitamins and minerals, weight management, condition specific infant formulas, etc. in this channel. The interesting thing is that many of these products are available in pharmacy but pharmacies are still not top of mind as a destination.

Is this restricting your sales? Of course it is. Is there a way to alter this perception? The optimist in me believes that there is and it comes down to altering shopper perception.

Many pharmacies carry a range of products appropriate to prevention; it is just how they are represented in store that is driving the current shopper perception. And we’ve all heard the old saying “perception is reality”. The question is how do we alter this perception?


Where are the prevention categories such as vitamins and minerals, weight management, liver and kidney cleansing products, etc. located in your store? Are they mixed in with other categories? Hidden at the back of the store while tissues, washing powders and cosmetics fill the front of store? Or are they in a prominent location? I suspect that they are mixed in with cure categories and have a relatively low profile in the store. If that is the case, put yourself in the shoes of the shopper entering your store. The most visible categories will drive your perception of the purpose of the store.

Our shopper research studies have shown that the most frequent trip type in the pharmacy channel is script fill. A fact I doubt comes as a surprise. But you may not know that the other most prevalent trip types are distress and emergency. These shoppers aren’t going to be browsing your store to discover what else you range on your shelves. They are going to get in to the store, find what they are looking for and leave. Therefore to shift their perception, prevention categories need to be given a higher profile in the store.

How? Consider grouping prevention related categories and signposting them, shifting them to the front of store or alternatively create a store within a store. All of these tactics will increase visibility and help to alter the perception of the store.


Are your catalogues focused on advertising cure-related categories, or do you also advertise prevention categories? Have you go the mix right? Could you be giving healthy living categories a higher profile in your marketing communications? Could you have a health feature in these catalogues to help drive the shift in perception?

Once again, consider putting yourself in the shoes of your customer. Start out the front of your store and look at what your shopper sees. Think about the message your shopper gets as they enter the store. Are you communicating to shoppers that your store is there to promote good health or are you just focused on curing the ill?

Every time the shopper comes into contact with your store, whether it be via advertising or in-store communications, you have an opportunity to shift shopper perception. Consider how you use these tools to your best advantage.


Health care services can be a good tool to use to boost the profile of healthy living in your store. Think about how you communicate the services you offer. Is there an opportunity to communicate them more clearly or put a more positive prevention message into the communication? Are you offering the right services? Are there others that would reinforce this shift in focus?

Making services visible within a pharmacy can be a challenge. Consider using the front of store so you are communicating to people who pass by who may not have visited your store. You may be able to attract new customers who were not previously aware of the services you offer while also shifting perception.


Pharmacies in international markets such as the US and the UK have used fresh food as another method of driving the healthy living message. They offer healthy on-the-go food offers in metro stores, which give customers an alternative to fast food and other unhealthy food options. They also range organics, super foods, condition specific foods, etc. which appeal to a health conscious shopper.

Is there opportunity for you to think about your range and dial up categories that promote good health? They may not be food related, but they may also provide you with another option to compete not only with health food stores but also with supermarkets who do not currently range these products.

All of this is really just food for thought. Would you like to attract shoppers who are interesting in prevention as well as cure? If so, are you doing everything you could be with your current range, space, visibility, communication and services? You may find a few small changes could make a world of difference to the health of your business.