September 2023

The New Pharmacy Way

How is Online Shopping Changing Healthcare?

Up until a couple of years ago, online shopping did not go hand in hand with something as serious as one’s health. But as the world experienced the pandemic, so did the pharmacies, and they had to adapt. The “new normal” required reduced physical contact, contactless payments, and home delivery. This led to a significant increase in the business of e-pharmacies.

The Questions and the Challenges

Pharmaceutical e-commerce does have its downsides.

Ordering medication online without face-to-face interaction, which in the case of pharmacies is an interaction with a specifically educated and licensed healthcare professional, means advice on the use of a product or potential warnings for certain types of patients will not be provided, not on a case-by-case, personal basis. 

Moreover, as in any field, there are illegal online pharmacies which do not adhere to the ethics of the medical and pharmaceutical profession and will sell medicine and other products which have not been tested, are counterfeit or can be directly harmful to a person. While there are ongoing significant attempts by lawmakers to combat this and eliminate illegal online pharmacy businesses, any e-commerce is by its nature global and therefore subject to different laws and regulations across borders. 

Aside from potential issues with the products purchased, there are also concerns about the privacy of a customer’s information, both personal and financial. Data theft and online fraud continue to boom right alongside e-commerce itself and e-pharmacies with weak or faulty cybersecurity can be subject to online criminals.

Due to all this, it is always advised that a customer take great care when choosing an e-pharmacy.

The High-Tech Future of Healthcare

The use of artificial intelligence and IoT – Internet of Things, the name for the online network of devices that communicate and exchange data and can include anything from your vehicle to your roof’s solar panels and your home’s refrigerator, smart lighting for your glucose measuring device – is growing in the pharmaceutical sector. The development of new practices and new technologies as well as updated versions of those currently in use will continue to rise and e-pharmacies will continue to develop as well, increasing the speed and ease with which customers can interact with them.

The outlook is good, when you know that online ordering of medication can reduce the possibility of human error and provide designated healthcare professionals with easier and quicker access to a patient’s medical history/health background. Improved software will not only ensure foolproof verification of prescriptions but also weed out potential counterfeit prescriptions and attempts at fraud. This means there will be a greater focus on user-oriented e-pharmacies, reducing the need for customers to re-enter all their data into a system when switching from one online pharmacy to another.

Data projections are also very much in favour of digital pharmacy trends. The revenue from online pharmacies is expected to reach over 31 billion USD in 2023, and over 52 billion USD by 2027.

That being said, the future of retail pharmacy does not necessarily include the “death” of brick-and-mortar pharmacies. In emergencies, people still visit their nearest physical pharmacy and major hospitals will retain their physical drug stores. Many people, especially older generations, have a far greater level of trust in traditional pharmacies than in online ones.

Therefore, your local drug store will still exist in the years to come, but it will have its business capacity reduced. And as with e-commerce in general, a collaboration between brick-and-mortar and online counterparts is always more beneficial than competition. Many thriving online businesses also have a physical presence and pharmacies, despite current digital pharmacy trends, will probably choose to do the same.

The revenue from online pharmacies is expected to reach over 31 billion USD in 2023, and over 52 billion USD by 2027.

E-Pharmacy Tips for Healthcare Providers

A user-friendly platform is key: a customer needs to be able to easily find the products they desire and then purchase them with as few clicks of the mouse or taps on the screen as possible. Multiple delivery options are always a good business practice, especially if express or same-day delivery can be provided. 

Since E-pharmacy deals with people with health conditions, often serious or sensitive, sensitivity and openness in communication are a must: if a customer feels comfortable while interacting with the platform and feels their privacy is being respected, they will come back again, especially if they received not only the product they came for but also advice on its use from a healthcare professional on the other side of the channel.

Security and privacy, in general, are paramount: not only the privacy of a customer’s personal and medical data but also their payment information. Sharing data with third-party providers should be avoided, and cybersecurity should be at the top of the priority list, protecting both the E-pharmacy and the customers from online fraud and data theft.

E-pharmacies are definitely not only the future of pharmacy but also its present. Looking at current pharmacy trends, it is clear that the increased shift to online services, accelerated but not caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue, especially with people from all age groups availing themselves of the benefits of online commerce.

While there are certain areas of digital pharmacy business that need firmer regulation – curtailing unethical practices and fraud, ensuring data privacy – the convenience and benefits that e-pharmacies provide to both patients and healthcare providers are many, and are expected to only increase in the near future.

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Interview with:

Damir Leko

Country General Manager Austria, Nexi Group

1. What gave you the idea to connect with the Association of Pharmacists?

Pharmacies have encountered a great demand at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. In that year we signed a cooperation with the Association of Pharmacists and provided their members with in-store terminals to facilitate contactless payments.

Combined with the rise of e-commerce throughout the last couple of years and the great demand during the pandemic, the next step was to connect the traditional pharmacy business with the e-commerce world, which we’ve successfully achieved with the new marketplace.

Through the new marketplace, consumers can choose which pharmacy they want their medicine to be shipped from – or collect it from the pharmacy of their choice after having paid online, simplifying the buying process for the consumers and enabling an omnichannel approach for pharmacies.

Our numbers confirm that: in 2022, pharmacy products are part of the Top 5 categories with recurring online purchases and are still continuously growing – which confirms that we have connected with the Association of Pharmacists at the most suitable time.

2. What was the biggest obstacle to getting this off the ground?

Prior to the e-commerce boom and the Covid-19 pandemic, pharmacies relied on a traditional way of business by focusing on personal in-store consultations and sales, as in multiple other industries.

With the continuous digitization through all different touchpoints of our day-to-day lives, the first online e-pharmacies focusing on over-the-counter products came to life and took away a big part of the traditional pharmacies’ business. 

Together with the Association of Pharmacists, our focus was and is to educate all stakeholders on the benefits of selling online and especially how e-commerce can boost the reach of each pharmacy, be it online or in-store.

Although it’s complex, we’re happy to see that unsere-apotheken.at has been officially launched, with multiple pharmacies already selling their products through the marketplace.  

3. Do you already see prospects for this?

Multiple studies already show that the population aged 50 and older is slowly adapting to technologies used by 18-49 years old – which confirms that we have launched this project at the most suitable time.

Our goal for now is to support the Association of Pharmacists and the pharmacies throughout their growth process and to expand the marketplace with other services, which will attract more customers and boost the visibility throughout the whole country. 

But it also opens up multiple doors to other industries, that didn’t start their omnichannel adventure yet, especially the crisis-resistant industries that cover all of our basic needs. Having the right payment partner covering online and in-store payments will allow these industries in providing a great customer experience.

Interview with:

Mag. Andreas Hoyer

1st Vice-President of the Austrian Pharmacists’ Association & Pharmacist in Lower Austria

1. Why is the business case innovative and unique? How does it facilitate the business of Austrian pharmacies?

We have seen the demand increase for online shopping in recent years – also in the industry of over-the-counter medicines. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this development and that’s why we want to tackle this demand with unsere-apotheken.at.

Our approach is to digitally connect the local pharmacy with its customers – in other words, to expand the pharmacy with a digital salesroom. If someone cannot come to the pharmacy themselves, e.g. in case of illness, all it takes is a few clicks and the desired over-the-counter medicine is delivered – or it can be picked up through Click & Collect.

For all this, our marketplace offers an easy-to-use platform that the pharmacy can use without much effort.

2. How did the cooperation with Concardis Austria come about? 

In 2020, the Pharmacists’ Association entered a cooperation agreement with Nets, through which our members have received discounted access to payment services. This cooperation is going very well and so it was a logical consequence to bring Nets on board with unsere-apotheken.at as well.

Interview with:

Mag. pharm. Alexandra Fuchsbichler

Pharmacist in Styria

1. What are your insights on the implementation of the online sales channel for your pharmacy?

With the new marketplace, Austrian pharmacies have the opportunity to operate their own web shop in a simple and cost-effective way.

This digital display, like a homepage, is part of a modern pharmacy and we must use this opportunity to keep up with the pace.

2. What were the challenges and motivations for the launch, what are the expectations for the future?

Online channels are very competitive, but together we can position ourselves well and make a digital statement. The pharmacy’s customers thus have the opportunity to

shop at their favorite pharmacy and order conveniently even in the evening, on the couch or even while having breakfast on Sunday.

Fast delivery is our great advantage, which means that our personal service does not suffer either.

3. What changes do you expect from the additional offer in your local pharmacy?

Most customers will continue to come to the pharmacy despite this offer. The advice and the open ear of the pharmacy staff are indispensable.
But the additional possibility will improve the supply and will certainly be used.