In the age of ‘retail disruption’, win with compelling retail and customer service

By Katherine Doric.

A couple of ‘retail’ experiences recently made me think about where we’re all heading. The first was when I ordered some books online from a local book store. Normally (or up until recently), I’d be waiting anything up to a week for delivery. I had my books the next day. The same thing happened with another online buy: next-day delivery. This unexpectedly fast turnaround made me consider the impact that the impending arrival of Amazon is already having on our retail environment – so-called ‘retail disruption’. In both instances above, buying online was convenient, I found what I wanted, the price was right, and delivery was fast.

Convenience, range, price, availability
As they say, it’s not rocket science. It’s all about a great customer service offer… which includes a great in-store experience (Amazon itself is getting into bricks and mortar in the US).

Capitalise on convenience
Most pharmacies are in shopping strips or malls, with a great opportunity for ‘walk-in’ patronage. It’s convenient and easy to access a pharmacy. Entice walk-in customers with interesting promotions that resonate. What products do you feature at the front of the store? Are they bringing consumers through the door? Consider whether your pharmacy is an easy place for your customers to be. Is there enough seating for those waiting on a script? Would a children’s area add value? Is there a suitable place for a private discussion? What about ambient music? Health TV? Water? Coffee? Convenience now encompasses online, with consumers seeking access to information and the ability to buy. According to a 2016 report on online shopping, health and beauty has been the fastest-moving online-shopping category, growing by more than 50 per cent in the previous 12 months1. Most branded pharmacy groups have internet services with free delivery options, depending on what you buy. Are your customers aware that these services are available for your retail brand? If not, tell them. With a branded group, many online services are run out of specific stores. If this is likely to affect your pharmacy sales, negotiate an equitable allocation of sales based on geography. Many independent pharmacies don’t have internet ordering and delivery capability, so investigate the options. The click-and-collect service the Pharmacy Guild offers is available – it’s easy to use and free to members.

The right range
Making sure you give your customers what they want is of key importance, particularly with your front-of-shop offer. Regularly evaluate your range of products to identify which items are selling and which aren’t. Keep pace with new products that should be introduced and consider special, one-off items that could create interest. Think about slow sellers – should they be deleted? Make sure you are well set up for summer, or for winter, as the seasons flow. Think about products that could come and go. Would a selection of special Christmas items work for your pharmacy?

A price to entice?
Price is important to consumers, especially in this age of rampant price promotion. Find a way to deal with your customers’ perceptions of your prices. For example, I was recently impressed by my local independent grocer, which offered two of my favourite products on promotion for significantly less than the major chains. This was enough to change my perception of that store. It’s not necessarily the least expensive across everything I buy, but the store was willing to give me a surprise, an enticement and a reward for my loyalty. So I’ll be back. Can you do the same thing for a selection of high-demand products? Make yourself familiar with the principles of different pricing strategies and crunch the numbers for your store. Work out what could work with your customers.

Ready availability
Having the right products in stock is critical. If you don’t have an item that your customers want, make sure you offer to get it in. There should be sufficient product on shelf to make your customers feel good about shopping in your pharmacy. Out of stocks must not happen: have the systems in place to ensure they are a rare occurrence. A potential customer will most often go elsewhere if they can’t find the product they want in your pharmacy – and they may never come back.

Customer service to impress
Great customer service is often about the attitude of staff towards pharmacy customers (‘I’m here to help’), the consistency of customer service delivery (the same helpfulness and attention every time) and teamwork in the pharmacy (making each other look good).

The quality of pharmacy staff and their customer-service capability boils down to a few things: your pharmacy recruitment policy; the training that pharmacy staff receive; and how your staff are managed and rewarded. When recruiting personnel, are you clear about your customer-service priorities? Are your expectations clear, too? Are minimum standards of customer service in place? For example, how should staff approach and greet customers, how should they deal with queries and complaints, etc? Put mechanisms in place to make your customers feel good about their experience in your store. Serving your customers should be the number-one priority.

Ask your customers for feedback. A six-monthly customer-satisfaction survey might help to mobilise staff to do their best every time. Celebrate positive customer comments. A reward for staff who show exceptional customer service will motivate and focus attention on the importance of this value. Monitor social media and respond to both positive and negative comments that appear. Show customers that they are valued and that you appreciate their custom and contribution to your business.

Convenience, range, price, availability, great customer service – winning in a retail environment is all about the fundamentals, whether a customer is buying in store or online. In the so-called ‘age of disruption’, consumers are simply seeking what they’ve always sought.