Established in 2017, Sandyford Business District is charged with promoting investment of all kinds in the south Co Dublin neighbourhood. Central to this is retail – and no retail sector is more aware of the challenges of doing business today than the pharmacy sector.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, retail pharmacies have had to move away from business as usual, said Conor Battigan, district executive, Sandyford Business District.
Part of this is about providing more than medicine. Instead, pharmacies can help to provide help and reassurance to customers.
The fact that this can now be done online follows broader social trends, however.
“As we know, consumers are reaching more and more to online for their information. This is the same for the pharmacy sector,” said Battigan.
The goal is to provide customers with a seamless experience where they can get information, consultation and stay well informed on their health and on the medicines that they are prescribed by their GP.
“[Pharmacies are] broadening their services to include online access to specialists who can provide in-depth information about customers’ conditions. We have seen this already with Meaghers Pharmacy group which recently launched Ireland’s first pharmacy video consultation service. In the UK, Lloyds Pharmacy has teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Society’s support service Dementia Connect for in-store patient counselling. We can expect to see more of this emerging here,” he said.
Legislative changes should significantly smooth things, Battigan said.
“The Minister for Health also recently signed the Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 allowing for the electronic transfer of prescriptions to a pharmacy via an approved electronic system: the HSE's Healthmail system.
In store everywhere
Obviously, the wider retail environment has undergone dramatic changes in 2020 and no one yet knows what the future holds. What is known, however, is that traditional bricks and mortar retailers have move to so-called ‘omni-channel’ strategies.
In practice, this means supplementing the in-store experience with e-commerce including postal delivery, local delivery and click-and-collect.
Battigan said that as the months roll by, this will become more important.
“Addressing their digital presence needs to be front and centre of retailers‘ minds as we approach the end of the year without a vaccine,” he said.
However, he said, there is more to it than simply putting up a website and setting up a collections counter: real thought has to go into the online experience.
“An effective omni-channel approach to commerce must focus on designing a cohesive user experience for customers at every touchpoint along with personalisation of service.”
Understandably, retail businesses need to match or even better the experience of shopping with the online giants.
“One thing has not changed, the consumer is fickle and less loyal given the growth in the global e-commerce marketplace spurred on by Covid-19,” he said.
“Clearly for small to mid-range retailers, the challenge is in technological investment and how they can market their presence, from the national to the global stage.”
Battigan also expects that changes in mobility will have an impact on Sandyford, but he predicts a long-term future of mixed modes of transport.
“Trying to keep up with developments is a challenge, particularly given the changes foisted upon us as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Whether cycling or e-scooters, we are already seeing these changes on the roads, but electric and hybrid cars are also being incentivised, and Battigan said that what we now see starting to emerge is greater choice in how we move around.
“By pushing a greater range of greener and more advanced technological advancements, over time, commuters will have more options to choose from when they set out in the morning for work.
“While there is still a long way to go before we get to a stage where private-owned driverless vehicles travel our streets, the technology is here to stay.”