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Delivery game changer

By Graham Smith

The Government’s decision to identify 1.5m people in the country as particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, and require them to be ‘shielded’ at home for 12 weeks, has added scale into what has been, up to now, a competitive edge for some pharmacies, and a time consuming and expensive extra for others. 

Even before the pandemic game-changer, many pharmacies were managing a huge volume of medicines deliveries to patients at home. But while pretty much every other sector outside pharmacy has drafted in specialists and established frameworks and partnerships to deliver volume in the most efficient and professional manner, it’s taken pharmacy a lot longer to think that way.

Whether you are using the NHS volunteer scheme or not, the reshaping of pharmacy delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic should prompt many pharmacy owners to take a fresh look at this important connection to their key customers. The volunteer scheme will not be long-standing, so what better time than now for community pharmacy, with doors still open and increased volume and regularity of demand, to build a better process and save some money? You might even consider working with a trusted partner to define how a home delivery service should work in the longer term.

Given the current situation, delivery has never been as important, and not just for pharmacy. Having quickly implemented and experienced a significant change to processes – not just for deliveries – pharmacists will be more open to considering others, and getting deliveries right will be near the top of the priority list. And that’s where a logistics partner can help, not only in fulfilment, but in driving efficiency too. 

It’s in no-one’s interest to supply inefficient deliveries

I can understand the reluctance. Concerns about control, and the loss of vital patient engagement in a key customer base. Then there’s the clinical aspects. Medicines are not just ‘any old parcel’. But ultimately, when you are delivering products, if your standard operating procedures are strong and the parties are aligned, there is no reason why delivery partners can’t produce the same outcome as doing it yourself, and build efficiencies into the process at the same time. If your partner understands what you are trying to achieve, it’s in their interest as well as yours to make that as efficient as possible. It’s in no-one’s interest to supply inefficient deliveries. 

You need to start with a process that makes the pharmacy win. Consider this: having a driver and a van at a pharmacy every day may not be the best utilisation of resources. What if you decided to move from five days down to two? How could you rework the supply chain to achieve that? 

Yes, you may need to tell your customers – and train your staff to see it the same way – that you do deliveries only on Tuesdays and Fridays. But they will quickly understand that you do deliveries on Tuesdays and Fridays, and most will quickly adapt how they order their medicines to fit with your business model. That’s how you scale and put more volume into a more efficient process. You might even get some time back for being a pharmacist again. You might even want to make the Tuesdays and Fridays super-efficient by using a dedicated logistics provider. 

The current pandemic has let the cat out of the bag. There are patients who never knew that pharmacies delivered, or that they could deliver. Just like grocery, retail, takeaway – before you know it, there will be a surge in delivery demands. For community-based stores to survive, they will need to think about their delivery proposition. What it is, how they run it, and how good they are at it. Because if they don’t, online pharmacies, who already think about delivery – a lot – will leap ahead. 

I believe the pharmacy market can tap into what will be an even larger customer base, once this pandemic is under control, that will expect and demand delivery. The best proposition, the best service and the clearest messaging will win that race.

Graham Smith is head of delivery partnerships at courier company Gophr 




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