Breaking the Pharmacy
From the mortar-and-pestle (see: apothecary) to the brick-and-mortar (see: corner drug store), the retail pharmacy industry has undergone a series of transformations over the past century: once solely a dispensary for medical prescriptions, drugstores soon became a fixture on Main Streets across the country featuring window dressing, soda fountains, and retail opportunities. In the recent decades, independent drugstores have slowly been replaced by mega-chains like Walgreens and CVS – but the tides are turning once again as the chain drugstores struggle to meet the convenience and personal attention that customers have come to expect from local businesses.
While drug store chains work to digitize their offerings with mobile apps, push notification reminders, and personalized shopping lists, other wellness brands are not content with being one of hundreds of products sitting on the drugstore shelf, vying for the customer's attention. These brands want to take the products and power away from the Duane Reades of the world. They want to capture and control the complete customer experience, which they do by focusing on brand-building and wielding their social media savvy. They are breaking the pharmacy model.
"We are a new kind of pharmacy."
The most direct antidote to the current state of pharmacy affairs is Capsule, the free prescription delivery service in NYC which boldly claims that it's the 'pharmacy that is nothing like a pharmacy.' Born from frustrating experiences of waiting in long lines and receiving less-than-personal care, Capsule is tackling the pain points of the pharmacy experience head-on, from opening up lines of communication (email, text, chat) and offering delivery of prescriptions As stated on their website: “We believe a pharmacy can be focused on caring. Does that sound crazy? It shouldn’t. And that’s why we’re dismantling the old pharmacy and completely rebuilding it. We believe the pharmacy can work for the people."
Pretty pretty pills
Most people can agree that the vitamin aisle has become overwhelming with the surge of offerings in recent years - but who would have thought we would be Instagramming our daily pills? Following our pharmacist on Snapchat? Lifestyle blogging about vitamins? Wellness wins again.
Companies like Ritual (one optimized pill-for-all) and Care Of (personalized pills) offer alternative options for those seeking their optimized selves, but don’t have the time or energy to peruse the drugstore aisles to find it. Like the vitamins found on pharmacy shelves, these products include essential ingredients based on scientific research – but this packaging is more visual (read: Instagrammable) and in the case of Care of, is even personalized for the user. Care/of CEO Craig Elbert believes that “building habits can be difficult… [and that] aesthetics play a real role in what we enjoy doing and how we feel. If we create packaging that customers enjoy… they’ll be more likely to build the habit when seeing that cue in the morning.”
As the role of the drugstore has transformed from a specialized pharmacy to a one-stop shop for all of your convenience needs, profits from sales of nonprescription items and beauty/household products now represent over 90 percent of chain drugstore sales. Stepping out of the densely-packed beauty aisles, you will find brands like Glossier and Goop that have a more personal and curated take on the wellness industry. Glossier’s skincare products are essentially the result of an online blog brought to life with crowd-sourced products, and has gained extreme popularity based on word-of-mouth recommendations. Goop is an entire lifestyle platform that began as a personal newsletter from Gwyneth Paltrow about emerging wellness trends, and has now grown to include products to ‘meet the needs of modern women,’ including skincare, fragrance, vitamins, and fashion.
Both of these companies exemplify the types of community- and value-based brands that are breaking the pharmacy model by providing a better user experience through unique product development, communication, and original content. We are living in a time where social media coordinators take on the role of wellness advisor by offering daily reminders and answering health questions. Your prescriptions, vitamin packs, and beauty regimen are only one click away from being delivered right to your doorstep. And all of it is wrapped in well-designed visual packaging that has high ‘shelf-appeal’ – though you probably won’t be finding it on the shelf of a pharmacy anytime soon.