Fighting online veterinary pharmacies … and winning

May 18, 2020

How to turn the threat of online pharmacies into opportunities for your practice.

Does your team love processing online pharmacy requests? Is it more appealing knowing that for all of your effort you’ll receive $0? I didn’t think so. Online pharmacies are hijacking revenue from your practice because they deliver more than just medications, food and pet supplies. They deliver a convenient, easily navigable, one-on-one customer experience that feels good.

Your practice can do the exact same thing but even better. Turn this threat into an opportunity to grow your practice in ways you may never have thought possible.

Pricing pivot

An online request must go through a series of steps: receive the request, review it for validity, approve it and submit the approval to the pharmacy. This typically also includes multiple phone calls from the pharmacy asking for verbal approval. You are paying one or more team members and a doctor to make this process happen and likely receiving $0 in return.

Gone are the days of marking up your inventory products by 150%. Clients won’t purchase from your practice unless your products are priced competitively. Medication costs for chronic conditions can be daunting to pet owners. Price shop common medications at some of the most popular online pharmacies, and then adjust your prices to be more competitive. Even if you profit just $10 from each prescription, at least you are not losing money.

You could argue that you are bonding clients to your practice by helping them save money. But the reality is that it’s costing your practice money to do so. Put in the effort to price your products competitively. The bond you have with your clients will flourish and the practice will benefit by keeping the revenue in your practice.

Don’t forget about service

No longer can you tell your clients there is no guarantee on the products they purchase online, and that you have no idea how the products are stored or where they come from. Today, giant online pharmacies can “give away the farm” with free shipping, deep discounts and coupons. Pair that with flawless refunds and return policies, and your clients are happy to purchase from them again and again. The big dogs can do these things and survive financially. Veterinary practices, unfortunately, can’t.

But there is another very notable piece of the online pharmacy client experience we overlook: client service. Service from most online pharmacies is excellent, drawing pet owners in and creating a strong bond. They offer guarantees far beyond what we are typically comfortable offering. From cute notes that include pictures of the pet right down to heartfelt condolences when a pet passes away. If these giant corporations make the client feel like they truly care and that their pet is their top priority, what is stopping your practice from delivering the same warm and fuzzy feeling?

As an industry, we are missing the mark if these big dogs can put us to shame in the customer service arena. Creativity, resources and a little reorganization will give your clients the service they want and keep them shopping at your practice.

Keep them coming back

What we know: Clients love convenience and a “good deal,” and they expect a stellar experience that is super easy to navigate. Here’s how to position your practice to check every one of these boxes:

Convenience

  • Offer a delivery service. Without too much fuss you can deliver medications and food right to your client’s door.
  • Make requests easy. Make prescription and food requests easy with an app or directly through your website.
  • Make payments easy. Speak with your merchant service provider about services that would make requesting payments from your clients quick and easy. Consider emailing invoices and integrating a purchasing platform on your website.
  • Implement autoship/autofill. This is great for long-term medications and parasiticides. You should be able to set up reminders in your practice software that will alert the team that a pet needs a refill. Fill it automatically, process the payment, alert the client that the order is ready, and drop it in the mail or deliver it to their door. The client doesn’t even have to engage if they choose not to.

Good deals

  • Offer rebates and coupons. Make them visible to everyone in the practice, on your website and social media. Help clients navigate submitting a rebate or submit it on their behalf.
  • Run specials. Work with your manufacturer representatives to run one-of-a-kind specials, such as a $10 gift service certificate with every ProHeart injection, buy six months of a parasiticide or therapeutic diet and get one month free.
  • Post price sheets. Post price sheets around your practice, breaking down the cost per day for each parasiticide, medication or food. Include prices at popular online pharmacies so clients can compare. Many of your customers buy a $4 to $5 coffee on the way to work every morning. Showing them that a ProHeart 12 injection will cost them around $0.20 per day really puts the cost into perspective.

Stellar experience

  • Dedicate a pharmacy phone line. Make sure clients can leave voicemails on the dedicated extension.
  • Create relationships. Assign a team member (or two) to receive and process every request. A consistent team member in the pharmacy position can deliver the same experience every time and get to know what each client needs when. Make the experience more personal for the client by always mentioning the pet’s name.
  • Stay two steps ahead. Lean on your practice software for reminders so you can alert clients when it’s time to reorder.
  • Thank them. Taking 45 seconds to handwrite a thank you note to include in every pharmacy bag will put a smile on a client’s face.
  • Create warm fuzzies. I realize some of the big dogs have call centers and all they do is answer the phone all day. Meanwhile, we are juggling six other things while trying to remain pleasant and complete the pharmacy request quickly so we can move on to the next task. A dedicated pharmacy team member who is fully focused fulfilling orders will provide a much more compassionate and empathetic client experience.

Let it go

Online pharmacies aren’t going anywhere, and all your resentment is doing is pushing your clients farther away. Start by identifying your most requested products, rethinking some of your pricing strategies and putting the right people in place to manage orders. The rest will fall into place.

Emily Shiver, CVPM, is practice manager at Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital in Lakeland, Florida.