September 16, 2020
When deciding where to shop, 87 percent of people begin online, according to a 2019 study from Publicis Sapient and Salesforce. And they aren’t just looking for basic information like where a store is located or what their hours are. They want to know before they leave the house that the retailer will have the item they are looking for, which means that a bare-bones web presence just won’t cut it for independent pharmacies who are hoping to attract more patients and grow their business.
Boyd Ennis, owner of four Payless Pharmacy locations in the greater Birmingham, Alabama area, knew this challenge well. Three years ago, the business had minimal web presence with no product information online. But he was able to transform his online efforts with a simple device called Pointy.
“Pointy from Google attracts local shoppers to a store by surfacing the store’s inventory online,” explained Mark Cummins, GM of Pointy, which was acquired by Google earlier this year. The device is a small box that plugs into a barcode scanner. As pharmacy staff members ring patients up, the items populate onto a Pointy Page, as well as the pharmacy’s Business Profile on Google. When patients search your pharmacy, they’ll be able to see what kind of products you carry—even if you don’t have an e-commerce platform on your website. And when people search for a particular product on Google, your pharmacy has the potential to show up as a local place that carries it.
When Ennis stumbled upon the device three years ago, none of his colleagues in independent pharmacy had ever heard of it, but after several calls with Pointy, he decided to give it a chance. “We’ve been enjoying it ever since,” he said.
When pharmacies adopt Pointy, they can expect to be up and running within only a few minutes. “Getting started with Pointy is really straightforward—no need to be technologically savvy! The Pointy box is sent to the retailer in the mail along with instructions on how to install it,” Cummins said. With no special software, it’s simply a matter of plugging in the device.
Ennis found the process easy and says he hasn’t had any trouble with the device since setting it up three years ago. He said, “It’s a true set it and forget it type of thing. There’s no batteries or anything, it’s just powered off of the USB.”
From there, uploading items to your Pointy Page and Business Profile is a natural process without any data entry on the pharmacy’s end. “As you scan an item, it gets uploaded,” Ennis said. Pointy figures out what the item is based on the UPC and it shows up in the online catalog. Pharmacies don’t have to worry about Pointy accidentally capturing private patient information, either. “When we scan a prescription, it’s just a computer-generated barcode which means nothing in the public domain,” Ennis said. “If you’re worried about HIPAA violations or PCI compliance, that’s not an issue at all.”
Pointy populates products online based on what’s been scanned, not based on the pharmacy’s actual inventory on hand. It paints a picture of what the pharmacy typically has in store, but not what it definitely has in store. Ennis used Lysol, which has been in high demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as an example. “It might show that we sold one today on the Pointy page, but that doesn’t mean that we have it. It doesn’t guarantee that we haven’t sold out.” Despite that pitfall, Pointy generally gives patients good idea of what they’ll be able to find in the pharmacy.
Shortly after adopting Pointy, Ennis thought about uploading all 10,000 items he had in his point-of-sale system so that they would all show up on his Pointy Page and Business Profile, but he decided that using only what Pointy scanned was more representative of what the pharmacy was actually selling. Still, when a new or particularly in-demand product arrives at the store, Ennis makes sure to scan it with Pointy so it’s represented online.
“I just got three new SKUs of hand sanitizer, and we immediately scanned them and they’ll be on the Pointy Page if someone’s there looking for it,” he said. “You can scan products like you’re going to ring them up and Pointy will capture them, and then you cancel the sale.”
With Pointy, pharmacies can run Local Inventory Ads that pop up at the top of Google when customers search for a certain product nearby. Having that top tier visibility can put your pharmacy’s name in front of people who wouldn’t normally see it.
“Being a mom-and-pop pharmacy, we do usually know everyone who comes into the store,” Ennis said. But Pointy has brought some new faces into the pharmacy. “I had a guy who drove 20 miles out of the way because he saw that we carried a particular brand of aromatherapy essential oils.”
In another case, a woman made a 20-minute trip to the pharmacy for an old cough remedy that she remembered using when she was a child, hoping it would help her own child’s cold. “She searched for it online and Google brought up two locations, both of which happened to be my stores,” Ennis said. The woman didn’t look like one of his usual patients, so he asked her what brought her in. “We got talking about all the natural products that we offer. By the end of the 30 minutes she spent there, she ended up spending about $150. We don’t do any advertising for any products ourselves, so she had to have found us online because of Pointy,” he said.
In addition to giving pharmacies more exposure on Google, Pointy can also give pharmacies new insights on what inventory they should stock to meet their community’s needs. “The retailer dashboard shows easy-to-understand charts and data on a store’s most popular products and the searches shoppers are making to find them,” Cummins explained.
Because he can see what people in his area are searching for, Ennis has been able to adjust his product selection, and those new products are selling. One of his stores had never sold durable medical equipment, but he saw that people in his area were searching for nebulizers and decided to add them to the store. “We have probably sold three dozen of them over the past year, and 14 or 15 during COVID,” he said.
It also helped the pharmacy recognize a need that wasn’t being met in the community—specifically, for emergency contraception. “We never thought we’d sell it in this neighborhood because it’s a fairly religious area,” Ennis said, but he saw in his Pointy retailer reports that people were searching for emergency contraception, so they stocked it in the pharmacy. “Our pharmacists and staff live in the community, and we thought people would be afraid to come in. We assumed people would rather go 10 miles down the road. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Pharmacies looking to adopt Pointy can connect using an integrated POS system or pay a one-time fee of $899 for the device. “However, we are currently offering the Pointy device to most pharmacies, grocery stores, and convenience stores in the U.S. for free in light of COVID-19,” Cummins said. Once they have the box, pharmacy inventory will be populated on their Pointy Page and Business Profile on Google at no cost.
For the additional exposure with Local Inventory Ads, pharmacies are charged on a pay-per-click basis. “Every retailer who signs up to Pointy will receive a $100 credit to try this feature out, but it is completely optional to use,” Cummins pointed out.
Ennis appreciates how easy it is to control advertising costs with Pointy. “You can set a budget of how much you want to spend on advertisements per day,” he explained. So, he may set the limit of $3 a day at one store but $8 a day at another, and he says it’s very easy to increase or decrease that spending as the pharmacy’s budget changes. “During certain times of the year, like football season in Alabama when we have scarves and hats for sale, we’ll crank up the budget so that stuff can get out there.”
This article was published in our quarterly print magazine, which covers relevant topics in greater depth featuring leading experts in the industry. Subscribe to receive the quarterly print issue in your mailbox. All registered independent pharmacies in the U.S. are eligible to receive a free subscription.
Read more articles from the September 2020 issue:
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