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When CX meets Rx: How flu season impacts retailers + consumer behaviour

Paul Tiedt | Apr 26, 2018 Paul Tiedt 04/26/18

From lining up to get shots to shunning anyone who so much as coughs, people go to great lengths to avoid the perils of flu season. While we’re all aware of how we might be personally affected, we thought it would be worthwhile to gauge the impact on retailers by seeing how consumer behaviours shift during these hazardous months. With the worst flu season in 8 years mostly in the rearview mirror, we used our market intelligence tool BrandGeek® to analyze behavioural data and customer experience feedback across retail segments that sell prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

Here are a few highlights.


Visit share + trip motivation shift in high-severity states

For the sake of comparison, the first thing we did was break out the data into three categories: non-flu season, high-severity periods (as designated by the CDC), and non-high severity periods. Not surprisingly, we found the number of purchases that include Rx and OTC medications is greatest when flu severity is high. While that holds true across all five segments included in the analysis (dollar, drug, club, grocery, and mass merchandise), the grocery segment sees the largest lift compared to its respective average. However, the data also shows customers tend to favor drug and dollar stores for Rx and OTC purchases when flu severity is high, while grocery stores see a decline in overall share of visit. 

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That’s likely because shoppers are looking to get in, get what they need, and get going as quickly as possible—but there are some other shifts in motivation as well. Shoppers who purchased Rx and OTC medications were more likely to cite insurance compatibility as the primary reason for visit, as well as:

  • Ability to receive assistance
  • Previous positive experience
  • Speed/ease of checkout
  • Store layout/signage

Customers who purchase Rx/OTC medications shop multiple departments

While customers may be making the trek to purchase medicine, they’re also willing to pick up a few extra items once they get there. With the exception of drug store shoppers, Rx/OTC purchasers shopped more departments on average than customers who didn’t make an Rx/OTC purchase, with the biggest changes being in personal care/beauty, pet supplies, and greeting cards.

Drug store shoppers, on the other hand, seem to be more on a mission driven primarily by convenience. Our data shows 44% of customers who purchased Rx/OTC medicines from a drug store visited a location within 2 miles of their home—and their Rx/OTC visits were 14% closer to home on average than non-Rx/OTC visits.

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A great customer experience goes a long way

With “previous positive experience” being a top trip motivator for Rx/OTC purchasers—and the fact they’re more likely to shop multiple departments and purchase other products—brands that win on the customer experience stand to gain considerably. In fact, looking at the CX data for brands that incorporate pharmacies into their retail operations, we see brand advocacy triples when customers have a stellar Rx experience.

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So how can brands win on the customer experience? It’s pretty simple (note that simple≠easy). Measure your brand experience so you know what matters most to your customers and adjust accordingly. For instance, using the top trip motivators identified above, retailers should consider:

  • Adjusting staffing + service models to empower teams to provide assistance proactively
  • Keeping a close eye on the checkout experience, especially around peak-traffic periods
  • Revisiting store layouts + signage to make flu-related products easy to find


Prepping for next flu season

There’s no doubt flu season has an impact on shopping behaviors—which means it absolutely warrants your attention. Having a real-time tool like BrandGeek makes it easier for brands to keep track of, and adapt to, those behavioral shifts as they happen—which makes it easier to deliver loyalty-inspiring customer experiences that lead to better business results.

If you’d like to learn more about BrandGeek and how we got this data, check out our short video here.

Paul Tiedt | VP, Client Insights
Derrick Cline | Consumer Insights Manager