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    Big-Box Pharmacy on the Rise

    Big-box merchandisers, including supermarkets, employ thousands of pharmacists and offer higher-than-average salaries.


    On the Front Line

    Working pharmacists see the same picture.

    “Costco is an excellent pharmacy provider,” said Phil Grauss, PharmD, who recently retired after seven years at Costco. “You have to tell patients to come back in 45 minutes because there are a dozen scripts on the line before them, but when they come back with those oversized shopping carts overflowing with other purchases, you see the method to the low-price madness. Costco has the lowest prices for cash customers or anybody with a high deductible health plan, but nobody ever comes in for just a script. They’re not looking for a ten-minute guaranteed fill.”

    It’s not just the increased foot traffic a pharmacy can bring. Loyal pharmacy and HBC customers have a higher propensity to spend more in the total store.

    Figure 1

    The typical consumer visits a grocery store at least eight times a month, according to grocery market research firm Acosta. The HBC shopper spends an average of $82.34 per visit compared to $38.74 for non-HBC shoppers.

    “Supermarkets started adding pharmacies because they recognized that a customer shops their store routinely for everything,” said David J. Fong, PharmD, formerly Senior Vice President-Pharmacy for the Western regional chain, Long Drugs Stores, which was acquired by CVS,  and Senior Vice President of Pharmacy for Safeway who helped expand the grocery chain’s pharmacy operations. Safeway was acquired by Albertsons in 2015. Fong now has his own pharmacy consulting practice and is a member of the Drug Topics Editorial Advisory Board.

    Related article: Is job satisfaction too much to ask?

    “Supermarkets recognized that prescription customers are typically very loyal to their pharmacy. The opportunity is leveraging that loyalty to get customers to buy more in the grocery store besides just their prescription drugs.”

    Grocery chains saw pharmacy as an opportunity to reposition themselves as a health destination, not just a grocery store that happened to have an Rx counter in the back. CVS made a similar move when it dropped tobacco products and removed partially hydrogenated oils from its house-brand food products.

    Walmart is also trying to position itself as a health and wellness destination. The chain’s Walmart Wellness day in June provided more than 280,000 health screenings and Walmart pharmacists administered more than 50,000 immunizations.

    “The idea is how can we holistically help the patient,” Fong said. “You don’t just want to dispense drugs, you want to help patients avoid conditions. You talk about prevention, health and wellness, eating better, changing their lifestyle. That’s the opportunity when you have more than just pharmacy in the store.”


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