In 2000, the "health" of the pharmacy depended almost exclusively on drug sales.
Till then, after dealing with the reduction of pharmaceutical spending, the financial crisis, the memoranda, but also the changes in consumer behavior, pharmacists in Greece are looking for a new economic model, while evolving the role of the entrepreneur, in addition to that of the scientist.
With more parapharmaceutical products and services, the pharmacy today tries to reach the attractiveness and professionalism of other market channels.
In the middle of the 2000 decade, when the Magazine “PHARMACY management AND COMMUNICATION” was first published and introduced entrepreneurship management and marketing in the pharmacy, this initiative was very bold!
Many considered it too commercial and did not keep pace with the pharmacist's science.
And yet they had to dare, in order for the profession to evolve and for the profile of the pharmacist-manager to be presented in a health profession that used to smell like medicine formula! In fact, the period that followed was full of opportunities for pharmacy modernization.
Improved customer experience
Remember what pharmacy was like in 2000, with most of the shelves full of drugs and only a few cosmetics and parapharmaceutical products on closed shelves.
The pharmacy windows were full of company banners stacked next to each other, without any clear message. And the "Customer"? That was an avoided word!
Since then, the space architecture level, with radical renovations in most pharmacies and customer-centric approach has clearly improved.
Many pharmacist owners have now taken the opportunity to work with expert external consultants, either in finance and administration or in communication and marketing.
This entrepreneurial spirit of the pharmacist-manager seeking differentiation was rarely the case back in the 2000s.
And naturally so, there was no reason to exist, since the turnover was growing from the ever-increasing pharmaceutical expense and everything was rosy and the pockets were full of money!
However, patients did not easily perceive all of these changes. For most of them, the pharmacy is an extension of Social Security, where they buy medicines at low cost, with love and trust for their pharmacist.
Creating a single identity through networks
In the last 20 years, an attempt was made to create pharmacy networks, which while flourishing in the rest of the western world, did not have the expected impact in Greece.
For a long time, the networks adopted the slogan "expertise, mass common markets, common identity, attractive prices", but this "recipe" of marketing "one size fits all" did not seem to have the appropriate acceptance.
The reason is that when a sector is structured, players do not necessarily seek to differentiate between them.
The first mission of the networks focused more on the business sector than on diversification.
Today, they seem to be oriented towards differentiation with the evolution of health services, but they are far from the ecosystem, in which independent pharmacies coexist with the networked ones, as is the case with all other sectors of the trade and where the brand of the chain attracts more easily consumers.
Following the steps of mass distribution
The effort of the networks to consolidate their brand with a common image and identity is one of the most important changes.
They have been facing much resistance and their member pharmacies accept, to different degree, the codes that characterize the network, either in design or in strategy.
And the reason is simple! When 80% of the turnover of an average pharmacy in Greece is drug related, this limits the urgency of integration into a network.
Supporting their "independence", pharmacists are still very reluctant to standardize their image and procedures.
However, unquestionably and according to data, pharmacies that belong to a network have more development opportunities.
Today, it is not the brand of the network that brings a consumer to the pharmacy.
But behind the brand, it is the building of the customer journey with the implementation of promotions, with an attractive pricing policy, with category management and in-store signage and so many more network characteristics.
In addition, there are tools for managing teams and sales technicians to develop relevant advice...
All of these elements follow network and other distribution channels strategy that are clearly applicable to pharmacies as well.
The wrong revolutions
Twenty years later, it is clear that the phenomenon of integrating pharmacies into networks did not ultimately bring the expected revolution.
In 2021, the situation remains unchanged and the model of the pharmacy as an independent entrepreneurship has not substantially changed.
In other countries, the changes have come from competition. It was because of pressure from Amazon that American and European networks were renewed.
In the United States, the pharmacy is now fully integrated into a primary care center with a full range of health services and products. However, we do not see this transformation in Greek pharmacies either.
In the early 2010s, pharmacies and commerce in the broadest sense were affected by the spread of the Internet and smartphones.
The Web is becoming a new channel of communication and sales. And this, even if the Code of Ethics always indicates "tactics in moderation".
The value of the network brand lies in its know-how. To become known, it takes time and especially communication to maximize network investments.
Even if things go well, a pharmacy network cannot be as active in e-commerce as it is in other chains.
As a result, pharmacies are far from the level of effectiveness of modern practices in the retail sector.
Today, could we say that all pharmacists and pharmacy owners are also managers?
Of course not yet! Meanwhile, giants like Amazon and Google are investing more and more in health… In other words: There is a massive change in the air!
1. Networks have made a significant contribution to improving customer service in pharmacies.
2. Relying heavily on the methods of widespread distribution, the majority of pharmacy chains have created their own brands of products.
But few pharmacists look with great interest at joining a network to build a common identity. The symbol of the green cross is enough for them!
3. The pharmacy lags behind in the multi-channel customer journey which it urgently needs to structure before the e-commerce giants are established. If the threat materializes, it would spark a revolution.
A more "professional" layout!
Over the years, the ergonomics and architecture of the pharmacy space has become more professional.
In the old days, in 2000, the ratio between the sales area and the back office of large pharmacies was 50/50.
Today, we are in a ratio closer to 2-to-1 and we see an increase in the sales area in favor of parapharmaceutical products, OTC drugs but also privacy rooms.
In 2021, pharmacists want basic colors, practical and modifiable furniture in their stores, while some are starting to install robots.
However, the pharmacy is still a long way from the experiential ideas that have emerged successfully, such as the Apple store where we move easily and comfortably from the site to the physical store and where we are greeted by a seller who is equipped with a tablet.
In pharmacies, to establish the concept of digitization at the heart of the customer's journey, with a reward card that makes shopping as simple on the internet as in the physical location, with the home delivery service or click & collect etc., we are still very far away!