Social media, school calendar will shape back-to-school season
PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. — The upcoming back-to-school season will be extremely dynamic, as shoppers increasingly shop for school supplies online and tax-free holidays and school start dates shift.
“To the average consumer, back-to-school shopping may seem like a fairly consistent and predictable routine, but for retailers and manufacturers it is an extremely dynamic environment,” said Leen Nsouli, director, office supplies industry analyst, The NPD Group.
Birth of a back-to-school season online: While back-to-school shoppers are still shopping primarily at brick-and-mortar, they are increasingly purchasing supplies online. From July through September 2015, the e-commerce channel gained $90 million in dollar share growth versus brick-and-mortar. “Consumers are spending more online and it is occurring later in the season, with a seasonal arc forming from the first week of August and lasting through mid-September. Back-to-school online share will continue to grow, making it even more essential for retailers and manufacturers to optimize their omni-channel strategies,” said Nsouli.
Shifts in school start dates and tax-free holidays: School start dates differ by region and grade level around the U.S., causing variations in spending patterns and influencing when consumers are in stores and shopping for supplies. Areas such as New York and Seattle are among the latest start dates, while Atlanta and Phoenix are among the earliest. This year there will be two less shopping days between the Fourth of July and Labor Day. “Each year back-to-school spending occurs later, and a late Labor Day holiday in 2015 pushed out the spending even later than prior years. I anticipate this will also be the case this year,” said Nsouli.
At the same time, there will be differences in the handful of states that offer tax-free days during July and August. This year there will be nine less days by state versus 2015, and some others have shifted their days. This pertains not only to brick-and-mortar stores; e-commerce sites will also be offering tax-free savings on items. “All of these factors reinforce the importance of timing for retailers and manufacturers as they plan their assortments, in-store and online merchandising, and back-to-school marketing campaigns,” added Nsouli.
Influence of school lists and supply packs on purchases: “With 70 percent of teachers providing school lists and 30 percent offering school supply packs, it is no surprise that these are the primary stimuli for back-to-school supply purchases,” said Nsouli. K-6 school list items vary by region, which impacts the demand and sales for certain items in those areas. For example, a higher percentage of thesauruses are on school lists in the Northeast, and watercolors in the West, according to NPD’s Back-to-School Supply List Database 2015. There is also a regional relevance when it comes to school supply packs, which are offered to parents for purchase by the school.
“Social media engagement has added yet another dimension to every industry and season, and back-to-school is no exception. A perpetual stream of trends on platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram means that teachers and other consumers alike are being influenced in new and different ways. This has also helped to put the fashion back in function when it comes to supplies; consumers are willing to spend more on aesthetically pleasing, or fashionable, products, ” said Nsouli. In fact, last year NPD found that over one-third of U.S. teachers used Pinterest and 20 percent used Facebook for classroom curriculum and school list inspiratio.
Executives unveil new Pathway program during Health Mart Annual Meeting
McKesson’s Health Mart pharmacy network hosted its Annual Meeting in Chicago Tuesday morning, at McKesson ideaShare 2016, unveiling an important new program — the Health Mart Pathway to Better Performance and Profit(SM), which provides a strategic roadmap to help independent pharmacies shift the way they approach their clinical and financial performance and pharmacy operations, and demonstrates the value they can contribute to the local healthcare ecosystem.
That value is substantial, noted Health Mart president Steve Courtman. “More than 44% of all Health Mart pharmacies have adherence metrics in the top 20%, and we’re either No. 1 or No. 2 in adherence for many plans across the country.”
Courtman chalks it up to the simple fact that Health Mart members value their independence in serving their local communities, while at the same time they work collectively toward common objectives, helping to level the playing field and compete with the chains for access to preferred networks on the merits of the value of the services they provide. “Together you’re tackling the challenges of this changing industry and building a successful future for independent pharmacy,” he said.
The next challenge for Health Mart is to demonstrate the value it can deliver both at the individual operator and network levels, leveraging high quality performance measures and rapidly expanding scale — with more than 4,700 locations, the network has grown some 50% in the past three years, Courtman said. “What do our customers want that we can do that the chains can’t? Owning the patient relationship,” he said. “We have the scale and the performance.”
To help Health Mart operators demonstrate their ability to deliver improved outcomes and the value of owning that patient relationship, the new Health Mart Pathway provides a realistic, pharmacist-approved process for making practical changes to a Health Mart owner’s business that help enhance profitability and clinical performance.
Building on the established success of its peer-to-peer Town Hall meetings — Health Mart hosted more than 100 such meetings around the country over the past year— Health Mart hosted a special peer-to-peer workshop Tuesday afternoon at ideaShare where members shared best practices of how their own companies already had successfully implemented activities on Health Mart’s Pathway. Courtman walked Health Mart members through the five-step approach during the morning Annual Meeting.
The first step on the Pathway is getting educated on the challenges and opportunities facing retail pharmacists, Courtman explained. “Health Mart wants to be your go-to adviser to help you get educated and to set these goals. Our Town Halls and our Health Mart University would be good examples of some of the things we’re doing to help you to do that.”
The second step is monitoring clinical and financial performance, including taking such actions as setting baseline clinical performance measures and creating an action plan for pharmacy staff on how to improve those performance measures. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Courtman said.
The third step is to implement medication synchronization, which helps establish the workflow necessary to offer more robust patient care and revenue-generating services. “It’s probably the toughest change to make in store because it’s impacting operations and workflow,” Courtman said. To help take some of the risk out of the equation, Health Mart has hired an implementation team to go out to Health Mart locations to help owners navigate the changes. “It’s about reinvesting in your business — developing the patient services that will help you engage the patient during pickup,” he said.
The last step, Courtman explained, is building deeper partnerships with nearby providers. “Providers want to send you patients because you provide better care,” Courtman said. “Build this credibility, collect these outcomes and demonstrate the value of these patient relationships.”
Following the Pathway announcement, Courtman also used the Health Mart Annual Meeting to introduce his new leadership team, including VP Health Mart Engagement Ed Escalante, VP Health Mart Pharmacy Operations Chuck Wilson, VP Health Mart Network Performance Stacey Irving, and McKesson senior director of Health Mart Marketing Dara Shulman.
The latest addition to Courtman’s leadership team, recently named Health Mart chief pharmacist Crystal Lennartz, then took the stage to moderate a panel discussion of Health Mart owners who offered a glimpse of the impact that implementing various parts of the Pathway plan have had on their businesses.
“Many of you have been really candid with me on many of the challenges you’re working hard to overcome, especially the reimbursement pressures that are facing our industry,” Lennartz said. “And I continue to be impressed by the resiliency of so many of you in this room, to evolve your businesses and care for your patients in new ways, which is really what the Health Mart Pathway is all about.”
Joining Lennartz on the panel was this year’s Pharmacy of the Year winner, Josh Borer, owner of Rex Pharmacy in Atlantic, Iowa, who shared how he successfully introduced a medication synchronization program into his pharmacy’s workflow. “It was a very important point for us and for our success for our staff to realize why [we were adding med sync], because inevitably you’re going to come across some obstacles,” he said. Understanding the strategy behind the program and what they were ultimately trying to achieve helped his staff overcome those obstacles and realize success, he added.
Closing out this year’s Health Mart Annual Meeting was the entertaining Nathan Jamail, author of the “Leadership Playbook” series and self-described “culture coach” who shared insights into how to create the kind of workplace culture where employees are driven by purpose and mission. “You can’t have a thriving business if you don’t have a thriving culture. And by the way, it’s all of our jobs to create that thriving culture,” he said. “What makes your pharmacies successful is culture.”
Crystal Lennartz moderates a panel discussion of Health Mart owners.