How to Boost OTC Sales in an Age of Drive-Thru and Delivery

Although many pharmacies have opened their doors and resumed normal operations after the initial outbreak of coronavirus, many patients who switched over to curbside pickup, drive-thru, or home delivery will stick with those services for good.

Pharmacists used to be able to talk with patients at the counter about new services or rely on patients to add impulse buys to their baskets. Now, patients’ contact with the pharmacy might be limited to a quick greeting through a car window. That means pharmacies need to go the extra mile to communicate about their products and services to engage current patients and attract new folks to the store.

Elements spoke with Brooke Barney, marketing and creative services director at Pharm Fresh Media, about what marketing moves independent pharmacies can make to stay connected with patients in this age of drive-thru and delivery.

Signage helps sell

Although many of your patients might skip the trip inside, a number of them will still visit the pharmacy for curbside pickup or drive-thru services. Use the time they spend on the premises to your fullest advantage with signage that communicates all you have to offer.

“It’s free real estate for pharmacies to put signage out and reach people,” Barney said. “Posters, banners, window clings, and other signage are a great way to make a quick visual impression and draw attention to current offers or in-store specials and services.” Treat your drive-thru like a fast-food drive-thru experience by creating a “menu” of popular OTC items that patients can order from the comfort of their cars.

Change your signage often to keep your message fresh. A sign that’s been at your drive-thru window for six months to a year will eventually become part of the scenery and lose meaning. Barney said, “Whatever your message may be, frequently changing the artwork or offers enhances the customer experience. Be consistent. It will build brand awareness and hopefully increase sales opportunities.”

Do the legwork

Since many patients may spend less time physically in the store post-pandemic, you’ll likely see a decrease in impulse buys. “It really is tricky, because impulse buying is definitely a little removed now,” Barney said. “I don’t think we’ve found the magic bullet for this yet.” However, if you do some of the legwork for them, you can make up for lost opportunities.

“One thing we’ve done for clients is put together pre-packaged care boxes,” Barney said. “If you know someone is coming in for Covid or flu testing, we put together some boxes that include over-the-counter recommended items like Tylenol or decongestant.”

You can create these pre-packaged bundles for any category in your store—pampering packages of cosmetics and self-care items, grab-and-go birthday baskets for kids in different age ranges, or summer fun baskets with sunscreen and other warm-weather essentials.

Keep patients thinking about your front-end items even when they’re not browsing the shelves by focusing your advertising and promotion efforts on what is in season. Patients know you will always have cold medicine on your shelves, so be sure to highlight products that are new or especially relevant for the season.

On your social media channels, post about seasonally in-demand products to let patients know what you have in the store, and be sure to mention that they can be easily added to a curbside pickup or delivery order. “Use technology like QR codes to drive people back to the website,” Barney advised. “Tell them what’s happening and what sales you have going on or what merchandise is available. We always find that if you can get people back to the site or to social media, it’s a good opportunity to showcase merchandise.”


Take Advantage of Google My Business

When you have a complete Google My Business profile, customers are 70 percent more likely to visit, according to a Google study.

The service is a critical opportunity to connect with new and potential patients and make your pharmacy more SEO-friendly. Once you’ve verified your account and claimed your business with Google, these are some of the features and insights you’ll have access to:

  • Put your pharmacy on the map
  • Read and respond to patient reviews
  • Find out what search terms people are using to find you
  • Manage multiple location listings
  • Schedule appointments directly through Google
  • Message with patients
  • Show what you have in stock with a Pointy device


Direct mail

Even though patients are probably spending more time on screens than ever, Barney suggests that a more traditional form of marketing can still capture their attention. “We’ve had really great luck with the direct mail campaigns we’ve run,” she said.

If you can’t communicate with patients in person at the pharmacy, direct mail is an excellent way to reach them and stand out from the crowd. Gallup reports that 4 in 10 Americans look forward to checking their mail every day. By using direct mail in your marketing, you’ll reach patients when they are in a good mood and receptive to your message.

You can send mail to your existing patients to inform them about your current promotions or remind them about your services, but you don’t have to know the names and addresses of individuals to take advantage of mailers. The U.S. Postal Service’s Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) program is a potent tool for reaching people by mail. EDDM helps you reach your whole neighborhood or whole town via mail, even if you don’t have every address in your pharmacy records.

The Postal Service even lets businesses target specific neighborhoods using demographic criteria like age, household size, and income, so you can make sure you’re reaching the right potential patients.

Multichannel marketing

Although direct mail is a great way to reach new and existing patients, it shouldn’t be the only way you reach out to them. For Barney, the trick to successfully advertising your services is using multiple channels to get on each patient’s level. “Personalize the experience as much as you can,” she said. “Meet them where they are, whether that’s in print advertising, through the mail, through email, or through paid advertising on social media.” Combine your direct mail with a QR code, for example, and turn the people you connect with via mail into people you connect with online.

A multichannel marketing effort helps ensure that patients don’t fall through the cracks. This is especially important when it come to your services—although most products can be delivered or picked up at the curb, you have to do some extra work to get people back into the store for in-person services like immunizations or point-of-care testing.

“It’s about being relevant and being timely and keeping your brand at the top of mind,” Barney explained. “Right now, everyone is wondering if you have the shot. I think both email and social channels would be a great way to communicate that.”

Usability matters

With a growing emphasis on digital, the user experience on your website is more important than ever. “You always want to find a way to get people back to your website, and ease of use will help you showcase your products,” Barney said.

When it comes to online experiences, simpler is often better. “We do a lot of WordPress sites that are straightforward: who we are, what we offer, and how you can get in touch with us,” Barney said. “Use your own branding, but keep it very simple for a better user experience.”

Google My Business is one platform pharmacies often overlook, Barney said. “It’s important that pharmacies house all their current information there. This is a conversation we’ve been having with many of our clients, making sure that everything is current so you can be found in this ocean of Google.”

Barney recommends cross-posting anything on your social media to your Google page. This way, you have a better chance of showing up sooner in searches, giving you an edge over some of the big-box pharmacies in your area.


From the Magazine

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.

More articles from the June 2021 issue:



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