Why do people buy medicines from supermarkets?

Consumers appear to be moving away from pharmacies and into supermarkets for minor healthcare needs, says QLD researcher

In Australia, supermarkets are able to offer unscheduled medicines for the treatment of pain and fever, coughs and colds, and indigestion, as well as other complementary medicines such as vitamins.

Associate Professor Gary Mortimer, a researcher from QUT Business School in the areas of retail operations and shopping behaviour, says there has been an increase in people self-medicating and in self-care, compounded by spiralling healthcare costs and an ageing population.

“Such socio-economic drivers suggest this growth will not abate and therefore represents an important and growing market for supermarkets and a potential threat to community pharmacy,” says A/Prof Mortimer.

“The descheduling of medicines has increased their availability through channels beyond community pharmacies.”

Price appears no longer to be a salient factor influencing consumers’ choice between supermarkets and pharmacies, he says, as the growth of discount pharmacies now provides the same low price offered by supermarkets.

In order to examine the underlying factors that may influence exactly why a consumer decides to purchase an unscheduled medicine in a supermarket, A/Prof Mortimer conducted a survey of 310 supermarket shoppers across Australia.

The study found respondents who purchased unscheduled medicines in a supermarket did so because they perceived that employees were competent and knowledgeable about such products.

Respondents reportedly also considered supermarkets had the ability to provide products and effectively process transactions.

The survey revealed that consumers did not expect supermarkets to be providers of information, and as such did not consider this attribute to impact their purchase decision.

Respondents also indicated they did not consider supermarkets to have genuine concern for their wellbeing, but this didn’t make a difference to their choice to shop there.

Two barriers that negatively impacts on shoppers’ intentions to purchase unscheduled medicines in a supermarket were psychological risk and social risk.

“Shoppers indicated that purchasing unscheduled medicines in a supermarket did create mild anxiety and concerns about social acceptance,” writes A/Prof Mortimer.

“In contrast, time and physical risk were not considered barriers of purchase intentions.

He offers some advice to pharmacies: “It is recommended to pharmacy practitioners that they continue to educate consumers about the risks of purchasing unscheduled medicines from a supermarket, where there is a lack of appropriate guidance about information about the potential side effects when using these medicines in combination with other prescribed products.”

He recommended that pharmacists “differentiate themselves” from supermarkets in the area of unscheduled medicines, and highlight to consumers that non-pharmacy channels lack an ability to provide expert advice, trusted information and exhibit genuine concern.

“Pharmacists should seek to understand their consumers’ purchasing behaviours,” says A/Prof Mortimer, adding that a comparative study of both pharmacy and supermarket shoppers is now required to add further knowledge to the area.

“Such future research will add to our understanding of consumer purchase behaviour of unscheduled medicines and identify opportunities for pharmacy practitioners to compete against supermarkets.”

This study was published in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research.

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