Nearly Half Of Rx Sales Don't Include Other Store Purchases

Pharmacies are losing sales, but not to the competition. According to a report from Catalina Marketing Corporation, a behavioral marketing company, nearly half of customers who regularly fill prescriptions in a pharmacy don't buy anything else.

The solution, says Ed Kuehnle, president of Catalina Marketing Services (CMS), is for pharmacies to take a hard look at how to boost in-store health and wellness marketing messages referring to specific conditions and the prescription medications used to treat them.

The St. Petersburg, Fla.-based behavioral marketing and coupon strategies company, reportedly an acquisition target for shareholder ValueAct, says the key to adding value is by communicating within stores with patients who have chronic health conditions. If done correctly, stores can then market non-prescription products and information--like nutritional supplements and dietary changes--as adjuncts to prescription treatments. The company's data is based on purchase behavior, not surveys.

"The broad issue is compliance of patients who are taking prescription drugs or should be coupling prescription drugs with over-the-counter (OTC) medications and treatments," says Kuehnle, who adds that 44% of prescription sales don't include front-of-store purchases.

He says that even beyond the business aspects of non-compliance, "there are several studies that show that people are not buying OTC products that would make their lives better. We estimated 19 million trips per week to the pharmacy where nothing is purchased but medications."

Kuehnle says the conditions that need to be targeted both for compliance issues and for the potential to sell OTC adjunct treatments are those that aren't obvious or acute. "With high cholesterol, you don't necessarily feel bad, so patients tend to stray off of Rx products. And for high cholesterol and for conditions like diabetes, there are a host of other products one should be taking, whether nutritional supplements or specific foods or non-sugar sweeteners--all or many of which are sold in the pharmacy."

He says the key is connecting with consumers while they are in the store through signage, displays or via the pharmacist. CMS offers a product that provides targeted information about patients' conditions on printouts which are stapled to prescription bags.

Kuehnle says the problem of communicating with patients is exacerbated by a general shortage of pharmacists, which limits the time they have to interact with patients. "Generally, they are well trained to interact with customers, but there aren't enough of them."

A number of pharmacy chains like CVS/Pharmacy, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreen are addressing such issues by creating in-store clinics staffed by nurse practitioners. Walgreen, the nation's largest pharmacy chain, opened clinics in 20 stores in Kansas City, Kan., and St. Louis, Mo., metros last year and then began rolling out in-store clinics in other markets. The company reportedly plans to have 250 clinics nationwide by September. CVS/Pharmacy began opening MinuteClinic centers in its stores in 2005.

In addition to treating routine medical conditions, the clinics--which are next to the stores' pharmacy departments--offer diagnostic screenings and vaccinations. Says Kuehnle: "Our research showed in-store clinics showed higher rates of transactions."