Case study: E-commerce innovation
The website of Landys Chemist was in need of modernisation when Mitesh Desai joined the family business as e-commerce manager a few years ago. In this In Business case study, Mitesh explains how the North London pharmacy’s online offering has gone from strength to strength and how the business has benefited from partnerships with third parties such as Tesco and Amazon
What’s the history behind Landys Chemist?
It’s very much a family business. My sisters and brother in law are qualified pharmacists, so they are behind the scenes and in front of the customers. My dad also still helps out sometimes. He took over Landys approximately 30 years ago, inheriting a business that was known mostly for its fragrances and the ‘fancier’ lines that were carried.
What he did, and what we still try to do, was to develop this into possibly one of the most widely ranged pharmacies that you’re likely to find – not just in terms of stock, but also the knowledge that our team has. Our business is not just about prescriptions – we’ve also got a huge range of supplements. On top of that we have a qualified nutritionist and homeopaths. We go above and beyond in looking at lifestyle and health, and I think our customer base responds to that.
How did the e-commerce side of the business develop?
Around four and a half years ago, I had left a job in finance, having not really loved it. My sister said to me, ‘We’ve got this website that’s losing small amounts of money each year, why don’t you see what you can do with it?’ Initially, we had an old, clunky website, but we managed to build some traffic on that. A couple of years ago we invested money in a more sophisticated website – focusing in particular on the background technology, and the way things like product recommendations work.
Alongside our own website, we use some of the big third party marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay, to expand our presence. Our e-commerce business has gone from strength to strength.
The growth has been pretty enormous in fact, and I strongly believe that it’s partly where the future lies. That’s due to funding cuts, which will likely lead to closures that make it harder for people to get to a chemist, and because people are more confident shopping online. Shops are also restricted by space, whereas warehouse space is pretty cheap.
We personally vet the brands that we sell – we want to have confidence in everything we put online. The focus is more on premium lines and health supplements. This is partly because regulation is not very clear currently, and I think that will change. I’d rather not be shipping P medicines, only to find this is no longer appropriate. It is also simply because there are conversations that pharmacy teams are trained to have on a day-today basis. When somebody is buying a medicine that may have ethical implications, seeing who the customer is is important.
What’s the process like for signing up to third party sites?
It’s very straightforward to sign up as a merchant on Amazon and eBay. The attitude is pretty much that if you can keep their customers happy and generate enough sales to cover the fees, then go for it.
Tesco is a little bit different, because they are by invite only. They came to us saying they’d seen our website and saw things they wanted on their own platform, and so we got going with them. Their data requirements are very work-intensive. Whereas with Amazon you pretty much type in the product’s barcode, tell them what price you want to sell it for and that’s it, getting a single item on the Tesco website can be a 10 to 15 minute job.
It’s tough work, but obviously we’re really proud to have been invited. It’s an absolutely massive business with millions of people visiting the site on a weekly basis. It’s had a positive impact on our business, no doubt. We only went live with products around 18 months ago, and plan to do more over the next year.
What in your view are the biggest challenges facing community pharmacy?
As well as the cuts, one of the biggest challenges that we are encountering is with respect to staff. It’s difficult to find someone who wants to work in a busy pharmacy, where there are something like 20,000 items on the shelf and the phone rings all day. The cuts don’t make that any easier because it reduces the hammer that many pharmacies would have to swing, namely investing in staff training and development.
I think Brexit is also a fairly major concern for pharmacies. Drugs don’t just come from within the UK, they come from all over, and with so much uncertainty we can’t help but wonder what will happen. For example, if something like levothyroxine is coming from a European country at a great price, that’s good for the government and patients. If a tariff is suddenly put in place, how will that affect the medicine’s price? That’s going to harm the NHS, because suddenly they’re going to have to pay more for the drugs they give out for free, and it’s also going to be bad for consumers who buy drugs privately.
What advice do you have for other pharmacies?
I think hard work is probably worth more than anything else. We work incredibly long hours to develop the best possible website. That’s true in our store as well – if you give a great quality service, a customer only has to come in once to experience that, and then they’ll never go anywhere else. I really think that is how independent pharmacies can distinguish themselves, and I believe you’ll notice a real difference in our pharmacy compared to walking into a chain with the same query. Good service makes people come back to you.
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