Although pharmacy needs to focus on healthcare, new ideas might catch the customer’s eye, says Noel Wicks

Is it just me, or has the scope of retail creep reached epidemic proportions? I can now buy a onesie when I fill up my petrol tank, book a restaurant while banking and take out pet insurance as I get my groceries (albeit I have to scan them myself these days). Although the idea of flogging stuff to a captive audience is not a new one, retailers are becoming increasingly diverse in what they offer their customers. In many cases, the products are a natural add-on: why wouldn’t you want a memory card or headphones with your new tablet? However, lately I’ve noticed more companies diversifying to the point of ludicrousness. Perhaps it’s the Christmas factor that’s emphasising this for me.

It feels like retailers are starting to overlap and homogenise their offerings. The top prize in this category goes, by a country mile, to garage forecourts. Is there nothing they won’t try and sell? I’ve seen everything from LED head torches (handy if changing a flat tyre) right through to novelty pottery piggy banks (handy for saving for a new tyre). The list of assorted tat they try and hawk could easily fill this column. I’m sure you’ve seen these ridiculous offers at the pumps, too.

Pharmacy has sometimes been challenged around some of the items it sells and it seems like we too are not immune to this retailing phenomenon. We seem to now be taking things to extremes, even within the healthcare category. I was particularly impressed by a massive poster in local multiple pharmacy branches showing this month’s special offer for a massaging swivel recliner chair, a snip at just over £140. Their website tells me this has a ‘3-point-vibro-massage’, which no doubt has made it incredibly popular with the local elderly population. The same pharmacies offered a cutprice electric scooter last month. I now regularly see fleets of elderly people terrorising the local pavements – no doubt whizzing round to their pals who have just taken delivery of a massaging swivel chair. I’m looking forward to next month’s offer, which will perhaps be a multi position electric bed or similar.

So I’m teasing a little but, to be fair, this multiple has clearly grasped that while our customers expect things gratis on the NHS, they also can, and indeed do, spend on other things. For example, I’ve been amazed in the past at someone having gone to the GP to get paracetamol on prescription, but in the same visit here to the pharmacy paying out £200 for a nebuliser. The motto here seems to be, don’t presume to know what people will or won’t spend their money on.

Anyway, as I ‘compare the market’ for what alternative goods I can sell in my pharmacy next year, I will also look to progress my next progressive retailing idea – to give away a free small bear called Olaf with each prescription. Yes, seriously! I think it might take off…

Noel Wicks is an independant pharmacist

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