Many people who have seen their local independent pharmacies close and get replaced by chain pharmacies fear that the independently owned pharmacy in this country is a dying breed. As people have watched the suburban landscape change with the introduction of big boxes stores, it would seem that the independent pharmacy has had a tough time. Although some recent corporate mergers have posed new challenges for the independently owned pharmacy, they actually remain strong and profitable in this country, especially in small towns where personal service is still highly valued.
One of things that people love about their independently owned pharmacy is the very personal customer service that is missing at a retail chain. According to a recent J.D. Powers Associates survey of independently owned, retail, and mail order pharmacies, independently owned pharmacies rated highest in all areas of the service from quality of service, customer satisfaction, and overall safety levels. People appreciated that the pharmacists at an independently owned pharmacy knew all of the regular customers, and that this knowledge allowed pharmacists to fill prescriptions much faster than the average at retail chains. According to the survey, people would appreciate that the pharmacists would know both the parents and their children’s medications, and that this more personal relationship played a role in helping the pharmacists to catch dosing errors and recommend low cost generic alternatives whenever possible.
Customers also consistently gave the independent pharmacy high marks for quality face to face consultations, and preferred them because they felt that in a chain store they did not get that quality time because of long customer lines. Many independently owned pharmacies offer great value to their senior customers by packaging all the medications for their senior customers and providing hand delivery. A retail pharmacy simply does not offer that kind of customer service.
One of the things people wrongly assume about large retail pharmacies like Walmart and Walgreens is that these bigger companies have much larger buying power that enables them to get drugs at a lower cost. They believe that these bigger companies then pass along these savings to the consumer. On the J.D. Powers survey, cost competitiveness accounted for over 24% of overall customer satisfaction. Many people do not realize that prescription drug coverage makes up 90% of all prescriptions and that people have to pay the same copay whether they go to a retail pharmacy or an independent one. So, retail pharmacies are not in fact cheaper than their independent counterparts, and often they do not recommend alternative cheaper generic drugs to their costumers.
Where retail pharmacies pose the biggest threat to independently owned ones is their ability to use large amounts of capital to buy real estate. A large company like Walgreens is going to have many more resources to come in and buy a corner lot in a suburban neighborhood that is simply unavailable to the individual. With their buying power, they are able to drive out smaller stores or simply buy them out, and often the check that is offered is sizable, attractive, and hard to turn down. Recently, Express Scripts purchased the company to Medco Health Systems to become the largest pharmacy benefit manager in the United States. Independent pharmacy owners are very worried that this will give them a much broader market share that will further undercut their business. However, if the J.D Powers Associates survey is any indicator, these larger chains will have to improve their customer service to really do away with the independent pharmacy.