Do multiples have the edge over independent pharmacies, ask Martin Hao, managing director at Healthera, and Lewis Fiford, pharmacy innovation manager

It is clear that in the current UK pharmacy climate, the independents, which are often smaller, family run pharmacy businesses, are facing a deluge of challenges at the hands of the nationals – the big chains like Boots and Lloyds. In many ways, the multiples have a distinct advantage over independent community pharmacy stores.

The multiple advantage

The first and perhaps most obvious fact is that bigger pharmacy chains have access to economies of scale and so their products are almost always cheaper.

Another advantage of being a big multiple is that they have a greater online presence, prevalent shared web portals, larger spending budgets and access to more innovative technologies which can often mean a greater workflow efficiency and better marketing of their goods and services.

Increasingly, shoppers are looking for convenience in their healthcare needs and the dominance and extra funding multiples have will often gain them better branch location, a more prominent store front and greater accessibility through longer opening hours.


Interestingly, the way that multiples operate ‘the big chain ethos’ is not always appreciated by pharmacy customers and the overall view of big pharmacy chains in the public eye has definitely been soured.

News articles have not been shy in suggesting that managers at some of Britain’s biggest chains of chemists have been pushing their staff to milk NHS schemes to increase company profits, a concept which can negatively impact patient healthcare as a whole. Just take the Luton repeat-ban scheme, for example.

The survival of the independent community pharmacy

So what is different about our community independents and how can they manage to stay afloat in this tempestuous sea of pharmacy competition?

In my opinion, the most important thing that community pharmacies can do is to focus more on healthcare and less on making a quick buck.

Because what really matters to pharmacy customers the most? The personal touch, trust, credibility, a personalised service offering – the willingness to go the extra mile. As when it comes to healthcare issues, there is nothing more reassuring than receiving advice from someone you know and trust.

Positive customer experience is paramount and this is achieved by taking the time to know and understand a customer’s specific needs in order to give that extra bit of personal care. So when this is coupled with continuity of staff and a consistently reliable service, it will inevitably build a pharmacy’s reputation.

Businesses which attract the most loyal customers are built on word of mouth – the best kind of marketing – which inevitably leads to an increased customer base and better customer retention.

Of course, there will always be patients who don’t care about their experience within pharmacy; customers who focus on convenience only. But those who do rely on their pharmacy do so in the knowledge that their health is being cared for, and the manner in which that care is carried out is very important. These are the kinds of customers who gain the most from community pharmacies while offering those pharmacies the biggest benefits in return.

That is something the multiples will often inherently fail to take advantage of and that is the key to our independent community pharmacies gaining a real competitive advantage.