The end of the High Street Pharmacist? What next for online pharmacies in a post-Covid world

Mohammed Yasir runs a high street pharmacy in Lancashire and is the founder of online pharmacy MyPharmacy.co.uk, which has seen growth throughout the pandemic. With a perspective from both the high street and online point of view, Mohammed shares his thoughts on what the future holds for the high street pharmacist.

A recent paper from the Local Government Association1 revealed that in November 2020, High Street footfall levels were at 45 percent compared to the same period last year. This comes as no surprise as lockdowns and forced closures have taken a tremendous toll on high street businesses in both retail, leisure and hospitality throughout the UK.

However, the same article also notes that “Before the pandemic, footfall had dropped over 10 per cent in the last 7 years. Internet sales had risen to 21 per cent of all retail sales at the end of 2019 compared to 7 per cent a decade earlier.”

As Managing Director of both a high street pharmacy in Lancashire and an online pharmacy, this is certainly a pattern I have observed as well.

The impact of Covid-19

We launched our online business, MyPharmacy.co.uk, in 2018. During this time through to February 2020, we observed steady year-on-year growth of around 10%. As the LGA article demonstrates, long before Covid-19, there has been a shift from the high street to online in all industries, and pharmacy is no different.

1https://www.local.gov.uk/parliament/briefings-and-responses/future-high-street-house-commons-10-december-2020
2https://unctad.org/news/covid-19-has-changed-online-shopping-forever-survey-shows
3https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/dk/Documents/strategy/e-commerce-covid-19-onepage.pdf


However, the shift has been slower in the pharmacy industry due to tighter regulation, but Covid-19 has accelerated this process. During the period March 2020 – July 2020 our sales increased by 50%, with a 45% increase in customer numbers.

It is important to note that as a pharmacist we have not had to close during any of the national lockdowns. We are an essential service and have remained open (and still very busy it must be said) throughout the pandemic. However, the ‘stay at home’ directive has pushed consumers to explore online shopping and home delivery services for all their requirements – including medicines and pharmacy products.

The trend is continuing also, albeit at a slower rate, with a 50% increase in sales from July to the end of 2020 and a further 30% increase during the first quarter of 2021.

Constantly evolving digital technology has it made it possible for pharmacies to provide safe effective services to patients, with the added convenience of online ordering and home delivery.

Life after Covid

Boris Johnson has now laid out the Government’s plans for a phased return to getting life back to something like normal. The most significant date for the high street will be April 12th, when non-essential retail can re-open, followed by May 17th when hospitality can once again begin serving indoors.

While this will be a very welcome return to some normality for us all, this re-opening of the high street does beg the question: with footfall to the high street increasing, will this mean a decline in demand for online and home delivery services such as ourselves?

The short answer: no.

We believe the combination of Covid-19 and advanced technology has changed the buying habits of patients young and old forever. This is a viewpoint supported by the United Nations in a recently completed survey2 of about 3,700 consumers in nine emerging and developed economies. The UNCTAD survey found that following the pandemic, more than half of the survey’s respondents now shop online more frequently. The report concludes, “The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a more digital world and triggered changes in online shopping behaviours that are likely to have lasting effects.”

A recent paper from Deloitte3 also drew a similar conclusion, stating: “The pandemic is rapidly changing our behaviour toward online channels, and the shifts are likely to stick post-pandemic”, citing convenience and greater choice as just two of the reasons consumers will continue to shop online.

The future of the High Street pharmacy

So, if the continued increase of online shopping is not going anywhere does that then mean that the high street pharmacist is dead?

The short answer: absolutely not.

The trend towards buying medicines and pharmacy products online is not going away, but neither are high street pharmacies.

As a high street pharmacist myself, I sincerely believe that there is a continued place for the community pharmacist in a post-Covid society. However, like all high street businesses, pharmacies will need to find a way to evolve and become more customer-centric in their offer, we will need to be less reliant on dispensing as a source of income and become more service focused.

1https://www.local.gov.uk/parliament/briefings-and-responses/future-high-street-house-commons-10-december-2020
2https://unctad.org/news/covid-19-has-changed-online-shopping-forever-survey-shows
3https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/dk/Documents/strategy/e-commerce-covid-19-onepage.pdf

 

Mohammed Yasir MPharmS Independent Prescriber has been a Pharmacist for 18 years, running a high-street pharmacy in Lancashire since 2010. In 2018 Mohammed founded MyPharmacy.co.uk, a customer focussed online pharmacy committed to the well-being of their patients.

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Published in PR Fire.com

 

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