Keep customers shopping at your pharmacy during COVID-19 and beyond


Adapt your products, marketing and buying experience to changing demands
In brief:

  • The coronavirus pandemic is affecting buying habits well beyond a search for sanitizer
  • Shoppers are changing what and how they buy
  • For front-end sales to thrive, adapt products, marketing and shopping options

The virus hit your pharmacy in multiple ways

Immediate effects of COVID-19 on pharmacies were clear to see, from front doors being shut in some locations to shoppers scrambling for thermometers and hand sanitizer.

Now the pandemic is shifting consumer habits for the short term and in some ways that may last longer.

While you may be focused on coronavirus testing and keeping patients healthy, don’t ignore your pharmacy’s front end. Remember: Margins from your store’s front end are about 15% higher than on prescriptions.1

Which categories are up and which are down?

Historically the beauty industry is resilient during financial disruptions, but COVID-19 is changing what and how people buy.2 One beauty executive coined the term “lipstick index” to describe how spending on affordable luxuries can rise during economic downturns.

But with people wearing masks during COVID-19, some are referring to a “nail polish index.”

McKinsey and Co. estimates global revenues for the beauty industry could fall by 20–35% this year.3 The good news: Pharmacies may be able to tap into several trends to rejuvenate those and other categories of front-end sales.

Eight habits to consider

When focusing on the front end, take into account changes in consumer habits and buying preferences during the pandemic. Here are eight ideas to keep in mind as you focus on products to stock, as well as merchandising and marketing plans.

  1. The impact of masks. When people work from home, or don’t work, makeup and fragrance sales fall. But when they return to work, sales of eye makeup may rise even though mask wearing may cause lipstick sales to be down.
  2. Skin care’s changing. Along with hand sanitizer, people may want lotions to counter the drying effects of frequent hand washing and sanitizer use. For people constantly wearing masks, treatments for “maskne” may be on the shopping list.
  3. Self-care sells. When salons are shut or people are nervous about going to them, home hair coloring and nail polish sales rise. All sorts of hair products have seen a surge during the pandemic, including hair removal, hair growth, clippers and styling brushes.4 Be sure to tap into this opportunity and highlight your ability to provide home highlights.
  4. New ways to pamper. Luxury bath products. Aromatherapy. Candles. When the world feels bad, people want small luxuries to feel good. For some, that’s a product that makes life easier. For others, it’s an indulgence, like a box of local chocolates.
  5. Stressing about sleep. While sales of anti-anxiety medications surged when the pandemic hit, so did products to help people sleep better.5 Think beyond prescription medications to OTC items like melatonin and other products, such as sleep masks.
  6. Supplement wellness. With health on people’s minds, interest in supplements may rise. Educate customers about options, but don’t exaggerate potential immunity-boosting attributes.
  7. Going natural. Interest in natural products also has surged during the pandemic, so highlight the various natural products you offer in your marketing.6
  8. Value matters. When finances fall, customers look more closely at prices. The 2008 recession provides a lesson. During that recession:
    • 73% of consumers stocked up during sales
    • 63% waited for sales to buy
    • 59% bought less expensive brands7

    Because of the focus on value, this can be a great time to introduce customers to preferred label options, such as Health Mart brands, which save customers money and add more to your bottom line.

When foot traffic is down, ramp up your marketing

If your store is or has been shut or people are still staying home, how do you compensate?

  • Assure safety. Help customers feel safe coming into your store by educating them and assuring them of all the precautions you and your staff are taking to make sure your store is safe.
  • Show customers what they are missing. Show photos online and in other marketing, since they won’t be seeing your end caps.
  • Create your own home shopping show. Look on Facebook and you’ll see numerous videos showcasing products from jewelry to fabric. Build excitement for an upcoming showcase of your products, and demonstrate them in fun videos on your social media channels.
  • Add online shopping for front-end products to your website. Even when they feel safe going back to stores, many consumers will continue to buy online where it is convenient. So, feature and promote attention-getting items.
  • Deliver everything. Make it easy to get products that customers used to pick up in person. Add front-end products to the prescriptions you deliver. Ask on the phone if they’d like to add anything to their order and suggest common or featured front-end products.

While the pandemic will continue to affect shopping, use knowledge about your customers and creativity to encourage them to purchase products from you.

1Over-the-Counter Products and Front-End Solutions for Your Pharmacy,” McKesson.
2How COVID-19 is changing the world of beauty,” McKinsey and Co., May 5, 2020.
4Hair to stay: Will hair care keep its pandemic momentum?” Seth Mendelson, Drug Store News, July 8, 2020.
5The pandemic has pushed beauty sleep to the center of wellness,” Emma Sandler, Glossy, June 12, 2020.
6Getting personal: Personal care brands aim to help consumers with pandemic-related needs,” Seth Mendelson, Drug Store News, July 30, 2020.
7Consumers Will Continue to Embrace Online Shopping After Crisis Ends,” Jean E. Palmieri, WWD, April 9, 2020.