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As Australia’s economy continues to reopen amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, there’s plenty of uncertainty about what the next six months will hold for us – but there are some certainties that community pharmacies can work towards.
While Australia appears to be doing well, the impact of the virus is very much a work in progress, so you’d be ill-advised to rush into making any meaningful decisions about the future of your business based on the small amount of available data on consumer behaviour since the outbreak.
For instance, there was a definite shift towards eCommerce as customers wary of heading to the shops in the early stages of Australia’s coronavirus lockdown resorted to shopping online – but it would be risky for an independent pharmacist to throw caution to the wind and invest the time and resources in placing all 20,000+ of their products online based on that small sample size.
There are, however, some essentials that you can put in place now that will surely benefit you in six months’ time – because at the end of the day, no matter what impact COVID-19 has (or doesn’t have), you’re still dealing with human beings, and human beings will always want convenience.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but now is the time to recognise your digital weaknesses and put a strong digital infrastructure in place that will make life easier for your customers.
Here are a few things you’ll definitely need to have on your website six months from now.
1 June 2020
The rapid adoption of the COVIDSafe app, despite privacy and functionality concerns, shows that Australians will happily download a medical app if they can see a benefit to them. myPharmacy Link fits the bill – with this app, you can make it easy for your customers to refill their scripts and pay for medicines with the touch of a button.
This way, you can have your customers’ medicines ready and waiting for them when they arrive at your pharmacy, or deliver their medicines to them directly.
The app can also provide your customers with timely reminders when they’re running out of medicine, as well as daily dose reminders and alerts; instant access to their current scripts and prescription history; reliable and government-approved information about their medications; and access to test results and progress reports for services like blood pressure monitoring and blood glucose monitoring.
It’s fully customisable for members of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, so that customers will see your pharmacy’s logo, brand colours and details when they activate the app.
You can use your website to let your customers know the app exists and inform them about all of its handy features, and place a prominent button to download the app on your homepage. It’s a simple way you can use your website to provide added convenience for your customers and encourage repeat business.
The Federal Government’s Home Medicines Service scheme, which currently provides pharmacies with a $7.77 service fee for every eligible home delivery to a vulnerable Australian, is a temporary program that is not expected to be continued past the next six months.
However, you may find that some of your customers have grown accustomed to having their items delivered, and will expect you to continue extending this convenience to them even after the immediate danger of COVID-19 has passed.
Every community pharmacy has the choice to offer delivery or not. It might seem like a good idea to require those customers to come into your store to pick up their scripts, because they might make some discretionary purchases in-store. But you should consider that, rather than begrudgingly coming into your pharmacy and browsing the aisles, they could just as easily take their scripts to a competitor who does deliver.
There are multiple ways for community pharmacies to offer a home delivery option – you can simply put a staff member in a car and have them drive around the local area and make deliveries, or you can offer trackable third-party deliveries with the Pharmacy to Home Delivery Service, staffed by couriers who have completed COVID-19 infection prevention and control training.
If you do deliver, be sure to make this clear on your website. This is a textbook example of the type of information customers who visit your website will be looking for. Make sure you provide details about how your chosen delivery service works – for instance, how long will it take for your customers’ orders to be delivered, and are they trackable? – and be upfront about the cost.
Similarly, if you offer a click-and-collect service, either through your own eCommerce store or the Pharmacy Click and Collect platform, this option should be prominently displayed on your website.
For customers who prefer the convenience of delivery or click-and-collect, advertising these services on your website could be the deciding factor that makes your pharmacy stand out from the pack.
'Help stop the spread, know your risk, monitor your health and call ahead. Stay informed'
While we all hope that COVID-19 will be less of a constant presence in our lives in six months’ time, it’s likely that certain social distancing measures will still be in place, and safety will still be a major concern for your customers.
A simple way to help reassure customers that your pharmacy is a safe space, and to manage their expectations, is to provide information on your website about the social distancing and hygiene measures you’ve put in place at your store, and continually update the information on your site as circumstances change.
For instance, how many people are allowed in your pharmacy at any one time? Are you wiping and disinfecting counters, and disinfecting hands with sanitiser, after attending to each customer? Do you have marks on the ground to indicate the required space between customers and staff? Have you removed public access to testers? These – and other measures specified by the Pharmacy Guild’s COVID-19 pandemic guidelines – should all be things that you highlight for your customers online.
You can also use your website to alert customers to any stock shortages that may affect them, and to spotlight products like sanitisers and face masks that may be of particular interest to customers during the coronavirus pandemic.
As we all know, the internet is filled with misinformation about COVID-19. As highly educated health professionals, pharmacists should also consider using their websites and social media channels to share accurate and reliable information about the virus, its spread, any possible treatment and prevention methods that might arise, and any other practical information that could be of use to concerned customers.
People will always want their local pharmacy to play a positive role in the community, and your website is just another way for you to do so.
COVID-19 led to a surge of people getting their flu shots early this season, and while we can’t expect demand to be quite that intense every year, it’s probably fair to say that the coronavirus pandemic has made people more aware of the importance of vaccination.
You can use your website to provide information to your customers about the optimal time to get the flu shot and when you’ll be offering it; how they can book in their shot at your pharmacy; which high-risk groups and people with pre-existing medical conditions qualify to receive a free flu vaccination through the National Immunisation Program; and any other vaccines that you are able to administer at your pharmacy.
When and if a vaccine for COVID-19 is found and approved, community pharmacists in some States will be able to administer it – and you can be sure that customers will be searching for information online about where they can receive it.
At the end of the day, a website is just another way for a community pharmacist to engage with their community. Nobody knows better than you what your community will need in six months’ time – but if you make sure you cover these basics, it’ll serve as a strong foundation for your pharmacy’s future.
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