Tip of the Week: Carefully Consider Merchandising to Supplement Pharmacy Services

Deciding what goods to sell and how to arrange them will dictate the patient’s interactivity and experience.

Merchandising refers to the display of goods for sale. It comprises logistic and spatial considerations, as well as pricing and even the selection of goods to sell. Relatively little can be found in the literature on merchandising, especially in the health professions literature, given its proprietary nature.

The concept of merchandising appears to almost be a lost art, especially when talk of merchandising might evoke presumptions of being married to product or an overemphasis on the “business” side of pharmacy. But these are short-sighted views. After all, a pharmacy must be profitable to remain in business, and the selection and display of goods to sell in a pharmacy helps patients make the right choices and can even spur questions and discussion about the products you sell and services that might accompany them. Contemporary merchandising strategies involve heightened patient interaction with a business’s goods available for purchase.

These are among the many concepts discussed in a book by authors Judy Bell and Kate Ternus.1 Although written with a slant toward the fashion industry, their fundamental tenets of good merchandising are broadly applicable. They emphasize that shopping is a form of communication, where merchants put on display what they offer and essentially ask customers what they think; and customers then respond, in turn.

Goods placed in the middle of the shelf catch the eyes of children in shopping carts, while more expensive items are placed on the top of the shelf so as to connote their premium quality. The penetration of online sales underscores the fact that customers in the brick-and-mortar facility are those who feel the need to feel and even interact with available merchandise.

Pharmacies could have displays demonstrating how to use any medical supplies or depicting individuals using these and/or medications, and doing so actively, in a manner not completely different than what is often depicted in direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements. Signage near such devices and near durable medical equipment, and even in certain OTC product areas can encourage patients to seek the counsel of pharmacy staff with any questions and thus promote this interactivity; otherwise, these items could just as soon be purchased online.

Bell and Ternus encourage “outside the box” thinking, but not in the same, clichéd way. Rather, they encourage store managers or owners to visit at least 3 to 4 other stores and take careful note of the best things seen in each of those stores. Those ideas can then be brought into your own merchandising strategy. Ask yourself what you can do to innovate the store’s visual appeal and make customers want to visit your store. It should be a pleasurable experience for them, rather than an onerous task, which applies likewise to the services you provide in the prescription department. Managers should attempt to answer the questions of why the customer chose your store and how are they engaging the store. For example, are they picking something up and hurriedly leaving, or are they treating the store visit as an experience?

There are indeed experts in merchandising employed by larger pharmacy organizations. They have much to add but yet still often experience various failings. Proper merchandising can help them and certainly the independent community pharmacy owner. The decisions of what goods to sell and how to arrange them connote a number of messages to customers and patients about who you are and will dictate the patient’s interactivity and experience. If you promote the sale of profitable merchandise and engage patients in health-seeking behaviors, then you’ve done both yourself and them a momentous favor.

Additional information about Merchandising can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane P. Desselle, RPh, PhD, FAPhA, is a professor of social and behavioral pharmacy at Touro University California College of Pharmacy.

REFERENCE

Bell J, Ternus K. Silent Selling: Best Practices and Effective Strategies in Visual Merchandising, 5thed. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing; 2017.