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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9 Comments

  1. Andrew
    04/12/2017

    Can’t blame them. Article directly below is some bloke who isn’t a pharmacist telling pharmacists to companion sell non-evidence based products to a public who doesn’t need them, while our colleges lambaste us for doing so.
    Interesting is the paragraph that suggests differentiating ourselves as “trusted and expert advisers” – this seems incompatible with the notion of selling a non-evidence based product to a customer who didn’t know they needed it using the leverage of being a trained “expert” in the field. Seems dishonest to me.
    The assumption that the public are ignorant and need protection from open sellers in supermarkets doesn’t stack up – it’s naive to think the public don’t do their own research and the evidence suggests that what’s online isn’t as bad as we seem to think it is (http://www.jmir.org/2016/1/e4/) – and with the push to companion sell it seems understandable some of the public would prefer to avoid a pharmacist at a pharmacy. I shop at “low service pharmacies” for this very reason.

    • Ron Batagol
      04/12/2017

      However, this Study does highlight concerns over patient-safety issues, directly emanating from increased product availability of medicines and complementary products in supermarkets, which has led to an increased consumer trend of purchasing these products from supermarkets. This reinforces what I wrote in previous previous AJP posts, specifically with reference to the upcoming “post-Codeine”:landscape from February, 2018. The potential patient safety issues that I raised in those posts relate to both the combination of de-scheduling ( in this case, of ibuprofen in 2003), as well as a potentially unforeseen result of the otherwise well-justified T.G.A up-scheduling of the widely-used OTC formulations of Codeine

      As I noted, an important potential issue regarding patient safety, is that, after Codeine goes to S4, and if Ibuprofen continues to remain available for sale in supermarkets and other outlets, patients who may have been purchasing Codeine products from pharmacies, may, in line with the community trend identified in this Study, increasingly seek to purchase Ibuprofen from supermarkets, as an alternative to Codeine, without utilising the professional advice and guidance of a pharmacist.

      In purchasing Ibuprofen at supermarkets (or other general stores), without pharmacist guidance and advice, any of these patients who have an underlying susceptibility to cardiac or renal adverse effects, for any reason, may increase the risk of a cardiac or indeed a renal adverse event. This is particularly concerning, if they are taking one of the formulations of an ACE inhibitor or ARB combination products which also incorporates a diuretic, which could place them at a risk of a potentially serious “triple whammy” adverse renal outcome. Alternatively they may be at risk as a result of the widespread use of anti-thrombotic drugs to reduce the risk of stroke in atrial fibrillation, which, could put them at potential risk of major bleeding events.

      Surely, the time is long overdue for again restricting all Ibuprofen purchases to pharmacy outlets again, where professional advice and guidance is readily available!

      • Tyson Clarke
        04/12/2017

        Why don’t we see more studies on the people that DO shop, abs spend a lot more, at pharmacies?

        Seems like that’s the future for our industry, but all people focus on are the horror stories.

  2. Gavin Mingay
    04/12/2017

    Groundbreaking stuff!! How much did the Associate Professor get paid to say exactly what most pharmacists should already know? Wait, the pharmacy industry should give him more money to compare pharmacy with supermarket and tell us exactly what we know again…

  3. William
    04/12/2017

    A/Prof Mortimer is approaching things from a marketing perspective and is trying to support pharmacy in what he said.

    “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.”

    The products supplied by supermarkets, in the main, are small packs of commonly advertised and strongly promoted products on TV and in the media that consumers have been using earlier and purchased from the pharmacy trade when they were restricted by scheduling.

    Of course even common salt is dangerous is taken out of dosage range. It is also true that some herbals (e.g. St Johns Wart) are also available in supermarkets which can be more risk than aspirin or NSAIDS.

    In addition most pharmacies have these products openly displayedt on the shelf and no need to ask at the dispensary for them in the main.

    Another issue is that supermarkets in some suburbs are open until very late whereas most pharmacies are not. I would not think that consumers would expect a supermarket assistant (even if one could find one), to give advice.

    Most consumers rely on TV, media, social media and the internet for advice on scheduled as well as unscheduled products and I cannot understand the attitude of the trade when a marketer is slammed for not being a member of the trade himself thus could never know what he is talking about.
    Is it any wonder that pharmacy is in its terminal stage of decline with such prevailing attitudes?

  4. Nicholas Logan
    05/12/2017

    Is this a misprint “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.”?

    • Sheshtyn Paola
      05/12/2017

      Hi Nick, it’s not.
      Here’s the quote from the study article verbatim: “This current study found that respondents who purchased unscheduled medicines in a supermarket did so because they perceived that employees were competent and surprisingly, knowledgeable about such products.”
      Cheers
      Sheshtyn

      • Nicholas Logan
        06/12/2017

        Thanks Sheshtyn. That line in itself makes me question the survey. I suspect most would agree that supermarket staff are neither qualified or available to comment on medicinal products. Can you imagine a shelf-stacker or a check-out-chook discussing the renal side effects of ibuprofen?

        • PharmOwner
          16/12/2017

          My thoughts exactly. I thought I’d misread the statement. What training, exactly, would a check-out person have in unscheduled medications (apart from scanning the barcode?)

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