Catering to the Masses: Low Prices, Innovation, and Convenience

SEPTEMBER 01, 2008
Carolyn Heinze

Ms. Heinze is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia

With America?s collective pocketbook under continued strain, mass merchandisers offering pharmacy services are responding by offering low-cost prescriptions in combination with in-store clinics to appeal to budget-conscious individuals who do not have a lot of time on their hands.

Wal-Mart Pharmacists Make a Difference in Patients? Lives

For Wal-Mart, part of this effort involves its offer of $4 generic drugs, explains spokesperson Christi Davis Gallagher. ?Our commitment to providing affordable, accessible solutions to America?s health care challenges is important. We will continue to focus on finding solutions to the toughest health and wellness dilemmas our customers may be facing,? she said. One way the organization is achieving this is by leveraging technology to drive efficiencies. ?Just as our $4 prescription program has saved our customers more than $1 billion so far, we know through technology, innovation, and collaboration, there are other ways we can do our part to offer solutions to these issues.?

At the pharmacist level, Gallagher notes, Wal-Mart promotes the involvement of pharmacists as part of the overall health care solution. ?At Wal-Mart, we want to be a place where our pharmacists feel like they are truly making a difference in the lives of their customers by offering affordable health care solutions like $4 prescriptions,? she said. ?Helping our customers save money so they can live better, healthier lives is Wal- Mart?s mission and top priority, and it is something our pharmacists are proud of.? She adds that this is one reason why the company is able to not only attract, but also to retain, its pharmacy personnel.

Growth and Development Possibilities with Target

Last May, Target announced price reductions on OTC and prescription drugs, including $4 or less on OTCs, $4 prescriptions, and 90-day supplies of prescription drugs for $10. Joshua Thomas, spokesperson for Target Corp in Minneapolis, Minnesota, underlines that it is often the company?s pharmacists who act as the ?face? of the organization. ?They are the primary contact for the people who travel into that store,? he said. ?They are answering health-related questions, and they are looked at as experts in their department.?

Internally, Thomas explains that Target aims to foster a culture that encourages growth and advancement. ?There is a continuous focus on development, and how you can grow in your role and with the company,? he said. ?It is possible to start out in pharmacy as an intern, and move up to being a lead pharmacist and even beyond that. From a career perspective, Target opens the door to a wide variety of business areas that you might not otherwise be exposed to.?

Thomas points out that Target?s heavy focus on design is applied to its pharmaceutical practice through ClearRx, the company?s bottling system that combines esthetics with practicality to ensure that customers?or, as they are referred to at Target, guests?remain well informed about how to take their medications. ?At Target, design is fashionable and functional. You do not necessarily directly apply those concepts to the pharmacy,? he said. ?If you see what we have done with our ClearRx system, it has brought something new to the industry that had not been touched for more than 50 years. It was about simplifying, clarifying, and enhancing the safety of our guests.?

The bottles?a considerable step away from the traditional brown pill containers that patients have been accustomed to for decades?feature clear, easy-to-read labels, color-coded rings that fasten around the neck of the container to distinguish one family member?s prescriptions from another?s, a flat face and back for consultation at a glance, a liquid dispenser for measuring quantities, and a free magnifier for those who have trouble reading the fine print. ?It is a bottle that looks great, and Target is known for creating merchandise that is esthetically pleasing,? Thomas said. ?Taking it a step forward, we believe that design should be smart, and that it should make peoples? lives better, and, in this case, easier. With ClearRx, it is a communications vehicle so that our guests understand the prescriptions that they are taking, and can avoid the danger of possibly taking the wrong medication or taking the wrong dose of medication.? Target also offers free flavoring for those who do not like the taste of their medicine.

At the store level, Target recently conducted some physical modifications that saw the pharmacy areas being moved from the back or center of its stores to the front. ?What we have learned, based on speaking with our guests, is that it would be more convenient if that pharmacy counter was right at the front of the store,? Thomas said, adding that this enables customers to drop off their prescriptions, do their shopping, and recover their filled order on their way out. ?Our guest is time-starved, and is always looking to cut corners when it comes to working against the clock. We have found that a small step like this can have a huge impact on the customer?s experience.?

In-store Clinics a Health Care Destination

Another way that mass merchandisers have addressed the time-starved consumer/patient is by adding clinical services to their rosters. Wal- Mart?s in-store clinics were rolled out in 2005, and Gallagher notes that the premise behind them is to provide low-cost care in a convenient setting. ?We know that our customers spend time in our stores already, and meeting their nonemergency medical needs in that same store is convenient for them,? she said. ?Doing so at Wal-Mart prices makes the experience even better.? Wal-Mart clinics affordably price acute (Get Well) and preventive (Stay Well) services for a number of common conditions, including sore throats, sinus infections, upper respiratory infections, earaches, bladder infections, insect bites and stings, cholesterol screening, blood sugar testing, vaccinations, drug screening, and routine physicals.

Target first began experimenting with in-store clinics in Minnesota and Maryland in 2003, through its partnership with MinuteClinic. ?We had a great relationship with Minute-Clinic, and the idea was to test the instore clinic environment to see if this was a service that our guests wanted and would use,? Thomas recounted. ?We found that they did, and we wanted to find a way to make that experience uniquely Target.?

In 2006, this came to fruition with the launch of the Target clinic format. The organization currently has 25 locations spread out over Minnesota and Maryland. Services include treatments for minor illnesses (such as allergies, colds, coughs, bronchitis, earaches, flu, mononucleosis, sore throats, and sinus infections); minor injuries (bruises, insect bites or stings, minor burns, splinter removal, stitch removal, and wound checks); skin treatments (acne, athlete?s foot, cold sores, eczema, impetigo, poison ivy or poison oak, rash, ringworm, shingles, skin infections); vaccinations; and wellness testing and screening (such as blood pressure checks, pregnancy testing, camp and sports physicals, cholesterol screening, and smoking cessation).

?Pharmacy plays a key role in our continued store growth, because it allows us to provide an environment for our guests that is marked by convenience and excellent customer service,? Thomas said. ?It plays a key role in delivering the in-store experience that we have established.?

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