Bridging the gap: Closing the distance between the pharmacy and front store
For being in such close proximity, sometimes the distance between the pharmacy counter and the rest of the retail operation seems longer than it should.
That perceived distance creates complications for busy pharmacists trying to engage with teams and consumers in the front store, even as they manage their own workloads. Industry leaders say it’s imperative to improve this situation so that the entire retail operation can act as an effective, integrated health destination.
“I remember working as a pharmacist behind the counter, needing to rely on my teams in the front of the store to make sure they stocked the right items, or to actually go out and counsel patients about items out front,” said Philecia Avery, founder and principal at Cincinnati-based Philecia Dayle LLC, who was a former vice president of pharmacy at Kroger. “So bridging the gap between pharmacy and the front of store is a topic that’s very near and dear to me.”
The need to bridge that gap is generating more discussion across the industry at a time of changing consumer attitudes and growing competition from a wider range of retailers — both brick-and-mortar and virtual. Industry leaders said that achieving success requires collaboration across the health ecosystem; improved consumer insights; effective technology and analytics; and a true understanding of the importance of educating consumers.
They made these points during a panel at the recent DSN Industry Issues Summit in New York City, which focused on the best ways to make progress. One of those ways is to foster a spirit of collaboration with associates, according to executives.
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“It really starts from the top down with our merchant teams,” said Craig Norman, senior vice president at San Antonio-based H-E-B. “All of our merchants are very collaborative. We’re very communicative with each other. A great example is the collaboration between my pharmacy team and our drug store and beauty teams. We know what’s going on in all of our respective areas. This presents an opportunity and an atmosphere for our pharmacy partners, who are our employees, to really play on both sides of the counter from the pharmacy and OTC, drug and beauty perspectives.”
Acting as a true health destination
At Rite Aid, collaboration is crucial to making sure the pharmacy and the rest of the store operate together as a health destination, said Tammy Royer, Rite Aid senior vice president of pharmacy operations. “We have a very collaborative relationship with our category management and merchandising teams to make sure that we’re offering products and services across the store that can assist people who want to improve their health,” she said. “It’s different for each person, and we have to try and be smart about personalizing that for them.”
Camp Hill, Pa.-based Rite Aid looks at the challenge from both sides of the store. On the one hand, Royer said, associates spend a lot of time considering how to engage the pharmacy customer with the front end.
“But we also see from our loyalty information that we have a lot of people that shop only front end and often promotionally, but aren’t utilizing the pharmacy. How can we make sure they see the value of the pharmacist who is there?” Royer said.
One of Rite Aid’s solutions is its Wellness Ambassadors, whose purpose is to engage the customer base and bring it to the pharmacy.
“That wellness ambassador is key to making sure customers are visiting the pharmacy and having conversations with the pharmacist,” she said. “So when it’s flu season, for example, the ambassadors have the ability to talk to people and ask them if they want to come back and talk to the pharmacist about immunizations.”
Brian Owens, vice president at Boston-based Kantar Retail, observed that changes in the industry make it important to shrink the divide between pharmacy and the front of store. These changes include the industry’s move to more of an outcome-based system, Amazon looming into the space and younger generations bringing new attitudes about privacy and trust. He called this an exciting time to make progress, in which “there’s a huge opportunity right now for us to work with each other.”
Bringing tech to bear
Analytics and technology have important roles to play in advancing the role of the entire store as a health destination, executives said. This includes freeing up the pharmacist to help focus on health care.
“It means creating programs for retail independents that are going to free them up, whether it’s inventory management, reconciliation or other things that take time,” said John Fiacco, vice president of pharmacy transition services at Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health. “This enables you to reposition the pharmacist and the pharmacy as a healthcare destination, making sure the pharmacist is out in front and promoting that.”
Having the pharmacist come out from behind the counter can leave a lasting impression on consumers, said Ben Doepke, principal of insight and strategy at Cincinnati-based IX, which leverages a range of disciplines that include psychology, anthropology, sociology and neurobiology.
“I know it’s a function of time to some extent, but it doesn’t take that much time to come around the counter,” he said. “Have you ever checked into a hotel where they come around the front, and there will be six, seven, eight people behind you in line, and this guy still comes out from behind the counter to give you the key and show you where the elevators are? It costs that guy 10, 15 seconds. And it’s worth it. It makes you feel great.”
Pharmacists can be empowered by having more personalized information, said Lari Harding, vice president of product marketing at Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Inmar.
“There’s so much data that gets created, and it’s important to use that data to push out to consumers’ personalized information,” Harding said. “You want to show, ‘I know what you’re shopping for, I know what you care about, I know what’s important to you.”
Pivoting to prevention
Health professionals realize the challenges involved in serving the patient, who doesn’t yet have a chronic condition, and whose biggest need is preventing one. Avery positioned this topic in a way that underscored its importance.
“How do we bridge the gap for this person to ensure they have what they need?” she said. “So it’s not just about the chronic state, but about this holistic person who’s walking around trying to prevent hypertension or diabetes. How do we have that conversation with them when they’re not in that chronic condition state?”
Owens said the industry does a very good job “from a sick-care standpoint,” but added that when a patient doesn’t have a chronic condition is when “I feel like we have to work harder.”
He said, “I feel as though where we’re falling short is that we’re not doing enough for those folks who are part of that at-risk population. What does self-care look like in that environment?”
H-E-B’s Norman said his company’s embrace of registered dietitians has fostered the ability to boost consumer education about a wide range of solutions.
“Using RDs in a supermarket environment is just fantastic,” he said. “We have begun down that path, albeit just a beginning. The customers absolutely love this interaction. They love to understand how they can shop our stores more efficiently, and understand what are the great items that are really good for them, and what are those items that maybe aren’t the healthiest, but that they can have every once in a while in their particular situation.”
The importance of fostering consumer education needs to be a conversation topic between retailers and their partners, Harding asserted.
“You need to put that education hat on when you’re working on programs with your vendor partners, or with your community partners, or employers, or anyone else,” she said. “You need to say hey, you’ve got a goal or objective that you need to meet, let’s see how we can work education into this. Because the more educated we make all of these patients, the better our outcomes are going to be, which is ultimately what our goal is.”
iHear pairs with FSA.com on FDA-cleared home hearing screener
iHear Medical on Wednesday announced that it has partnered with FSAstore.com to offer the iHearTest, the first and only FDA-cleared home hearing screener, with reimbursement eligibility through flexible spending account programs. Offering FSA reimbursement eligibility furthers iHEAR’s mission to provide consumers with affordable and accessible hearing solutions.
The FDA-cleared iHearTest has been clinically proven to accurately score hearing ability in each ear on a scale from 1 to 5 based on World Health Organization guidelines. Anyone who suspects that they or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss can now purchase the iHearTest and reimburse the cost through their FSA program. Results of the iHearTest can be used to program iHEAR hearing devices, including the iHEAR HD and iHEAR MAX, based on a consumer’s individual needs.
“We are excited that the iHearTest is now offered at FSAstore.com,” Adnan Shennib, iHear Medical president, said. “For people living with hearing loss, the availability of the iHearTest at this leading online retail outlet will offer additional access to our breakthrough hearing screening technology.”
Hearing aids became available over-the-counter thanks to new legislation signed last fall, and iHear was one of the pioneers in the space with a retail option at the ready.
Consumers may become particularly interested in OTC hearing aids toward the end of the calendar year as they look to empty their FSA accounts, Jeremy Miller, CEO of FSA.com, recently shared with Drug Store News in an exclusive interview last year.
GNC weighs in with new diet aid supplement
GNC this month introduced an innovative range of supplements aimed at the large, fast-growing weight management category.
“Our vertically integrated model and R&D strength gives us the unique ability to anticipate and understand consumer needs and pioneer new products and formulas,” Ken Martindale, GNC CEO, said. “That’s a tremendous competitive advantage and a pillar of our strategy. As we continue to develop new and innovative offerings, we believe we can drive differentiation and profitable growth.”
The addition of Slimvance extends GNC’s leadership position in the $6.1 billion weight management market, which is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 4% through 2020. The company believes Slimvance has the power to attract new customers, build basket size and deliver incremental sales growth, and plans to add new products to the line during 2018.
The company’s new Slimvance Core Slimming Complex is an all-natural, non-stimulant weight management botanical blend. Consumers’ initial response to the product has been strong, the retailer stated. And it further differentiates its shop from the competition.
“This company was built on giving consumer products and solutions that they can’t get anywhere else, on pioneering new formulas and new ideas and on anticipating customer needs,” Martindale told investors during his first conference call last year. “In this shifting retail climate, it’s a legacy strength that we can leverage.”
Martindale joined the specialty supplement retailer from Rite Aid in September.
The product line is available in stores, online and in the company’s Amazon Marketplace. GNC is supporting the launch with a multi-channel marketing strategy that includes a direct-to-consumer campaign, social media, digital video, display and a dedicated site where customers can purchase Slimvance with a single click.