Since the beginning of the pandemic, the pharmaceutical business in the world has undergone significant changes associated with digital transformation. The active transition of buyers from offline to online continues. In the near future, more and more new opportunities and offers will appear that will simplify the process of making a decision on the purchase of medicines as much as possible. To help brands reach greater rapport with their consumers, Google and Kantar presented research on the path to drug purchases and took a closer look at the online sales channel.
- 94 billion rubles was the total volume of online sales and product reservations in pharmacies in 2021;
- 65% use only one source of information to select a drug or treatment;
- Pharmacies remain the main point of sale, but they prefer to look for information on the Internet, and 22% do it standing at the counter;
- Around 20% of consumers may switch to an alternative brand if it just popped up on screen at the time of purchase.
Changes in the law on the circulation of medicines served as a strong impetus to accelerate the digital transformation of the pharmaceutical industry: in March 2020, it became possible to deliver OTC and some prescription drugs to home. Just a couple of years ago, it was hard to imagine that the total volume of online sales and bookings in pharmacies would reach a record high of 94 billion rubles in 2021, which is almost 30% more than in 2020. However, only 10% of respondents used courier delivery, the rest ordered delivery to a pharmacy or an order pickup point.
Of course, changes are taking place not only in the law, but also in consumer behavior. According to Google, there are about 100,000 new health-related searches every minute, which is 10 times more than two years ago. While offline pharmacies are still the main point of sale, 85% of consumers search for information about over-the-counter drugs before buying, with 45% using the Internet to do this.
What do buyers need?
It is believed that the buyer’s journey in the pharmaceutical business begins with the appearance of a problem, symptoms of an illness, feeling unwell, etc. Half of the respondents made the purchase of medicines for urgent need in case of illness. And almost all consumers make a purchase within 1-2 days (56% on the first day of the problem, 30% the next). In this regard, brands have very limited time to interest the buyer or respond to his problem.
However, often buyers think about the need to buy drugs even before they get sick. Indeed, 50% go to the pharmacy when a problem occurs, but often people buy medicines just to have them in their home first aid kit (29%) or for preventive use (19%). This is especially true for online sales, where the share of such purchases is higher compared to offline.
Interestingly, before buying a drug, buyers also often look for additional information about the problem itself – 28% look at methods of treatment, 24% methods of preventing the disease, 21% want to understand what exactly causes the disease, and 20% are interested in how to recognize the symptoms. .
As we already know, almost half of consumers prefer to search for information about medicines on the Internet. 70% of them use search engines, 50% go to online pharmacies and 37% read reviews on dedicated sites. Most buyers are interested in questions of cost (46%) and drug price comparison (40%), as well as instructions for use (32%) and reviews (31%). The second most popular source of information after the Internet is a visit to a doctor (36%).
In today’s world, consumers are often overloaded with information, making it difficult to make a purchasing decision. Therefore, the majority (65%) try to abandon unnecessary sources of information and choose only one. Moreover, consumers are not always able to accurately formulate their request in the language of the brand. They may evaluate categories differently, see the differences between different brands in a different way.
Different segments, different ways?
Google, together with Kantar, conducted a segmentation of buyers in relation to the choice of a particular drug and saw that there are at least 6 segments, each of which has bright distinctive features:
- Trusting doctors (39%) — consumers from this segment, when feeling unwell, immediately turn to a doctor and buy medicines on his recommendation, and also prefer offline pharmacies.
- Healthy lifestyle supporters (28%) who try to lead a healthy lifestyle pay enough attention to prevention and buy medicines only when absolutely necessary.
- Indifferent (11%) — they do not think about health issues until a problem arises, and in case of illness they buy the first medicine that comes across.
- Thrifty (10%) consumers try to figure it out themselves and choose the best treatment, they do not want to overpay, so they pay a lot of attention to sales and discounts.
- Pharmaceutical experts (9%). Buyers in this segment are very serious about the choice of a drug, they carefully study all the information and prefer to compare different opinions when choosing treatments and brands.
- Anxious patients (3%) can take medication for even a minor problem, trust advice from health programs, and actively collect first aid kits.
The same person in different categories can behave differently. After analyzing the behavior of buyers, it is possible to divide pharmaceutical categories into several blocks. Urgent needs include remedies for colds and flu (83%), for neck, back or joint pain (75%) and for gastrointestinal problems (59%). But there are also drugs that consumers prefer to have in their home first aid kit: these include remedies for headaches (50%) and allergies (44%). As health support, dietary supplements, vitamins (78%) and anti-smoking drugs (60%) are usually singled out.
How to interact with such different consumers?
Google and Kantar decided to conduct an experiment for which they chose 8 of the most common pharmaceutical categories on the Russian market – cold and flu drugs, neck or back pain, headaches, allergies, smoking cessation, stomach pain, and vitamins and supplements, sedatives and antidepressants. Thanks to the experiment, it was possible to conduct 47,000 simulations with the participation of almost 5,000 buyers of at least one of the categories aged 18-65 years.
The study revealed that there are 7 cognitive biases that behavioral science describes that affect user choices. Among them – the use of experts in the field, the emphasis on a limited number of goods, positive reviews, free gifts, the possibility of fast delivery and others. And while consumers already have a list of preferred brands at the start of their journey, exploiting these distortions can change their decision.
Why an experiment and not a survey? As practice shows, people tend not to always say what they really think, so the simulation helped Google and Kantar to get more accurate results. Even the fact that the brand appears on the screen at the moment of making a purchase can influence the decision in favor of it, and not the brand, which was originally a priority for the buyer. Across drug categories, between 17% and 21% of consumers chose a brand that appeared before their eyes at the right time.
The study found that using these principles of behavioral science can cause about 50% of consumers to switch to an alternative brand. Moreover, a non-existent but distorted brand was chosen by a significant proportion of buyers (from 28% to 42% in various drug categories).
This experiment also casts doubt on the level of customer loyalty to specific pharmaceutical brands. 60% of respondents buy familiar brands, but only 43% of them will go to another pharmacy to look for it, and 51% will simply choose another brand. Moreover, 40% of all respondents initially do not plan to buy a familiar brand. Minimal brand loyalty is observed in the categories of cold and flu drugs (29%), vitamins and dietary supplements (27%), and anti-smoking products (24%). Most of all, consumers are loyal to drugs for headaches (50%) and allergies (42%).
A few practical tips:
- It has long been known that the customer journey is not linear and does not correlate with all stages of the sales funnel, so focus on the customer, not the funnel.
- Ensure that the brand is present at all stages of the journey so that the product or service is in the eye of the consumer and he does not switch to another brand simply because he was at the right time in the right place.
- Apply the principles of behavioral science wisely and responsibly so that offers become more attractive as consumers evaluate different options.
- Close the gap between trigger and purchase so that consumers simply don’t have time to get to know the competition.
- To get closer to the path that consumers are on, use more relevant and diverse data – this will give more opportunities for communication. However, it is also important here to observe the measure and not to overload consumers with information.
Obviously, the consumer journey to purchase is complex and confusing, so it is important for brands to know what customers are thinking at every stage and to be there from the moment the problem arises until the purchase is made. Research by Google and Kantar shows that the role of online sales is growing and becoming a powerful driver for the digitalization and transformation of the pharmaceutical business. And knowing the characteristics of each segment of customers and the principles of behavioral science will help brands effectively distribute their presence between online and offline channels.