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Community pharmacies under pressure – can branding help?

Schmidt, Ruth A. and Pioch, Elke (2005) Community pharmacies under pressure – can branding help? International journal of retail & distribution management, 33 (7). pp. 494-504. ISSN 0959-0552

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Abstract

Purpose – Despite their essential role as providers of emergency medication, expert advice and specialist healthcare services UK community pharmacies are coming under increasing competitive pressure. Deregulation measures and heightened competition from supermarkets and multiples have led to increases in market concentration and forced many independents into closure. This paper aims to explore the potential of retail branding as a tool for independent pharmacists who wish to complement their role as therapeutic experts with a strong retail proposition and enhance their competitive positioning. Design/methodology/approach – Based on a qualitative study using key informant interviews with independent pharmacists in the Greater Manchester area, this paper takes a grounded theory approach. NVivo qualitative analysis software was applied to develop theoretical categories, explore themes and offer a starting point for theory building. Findings – The UK pharmacy market is polarized into the highly branded large scale multiples and an independent sector which still fails to make full use of the opportunities for retail marketing support available. A SWOT analysis for the community pharmacy sector illustrates pharmacists' key strengths as healthcare professionals and therapeutic expert advisors. However, often this is complemented by an inward looking, reactive and short-termist approach. Overall respondents fail to embrace the opportunities marketing and retail branding might offer on the retail side fully, to the detriment of overall business success. Research limitations/implications – The paper is based on a small scale qualitative study. Whilst the sample was carefully selected to be a fair representation of the different types of small retail pharmacies found in the Greater Manchester area, and within this context ecological validity is thought to be high, care must be taken with wider generalisations. Practical implications – Possibilities of complementing pharmacists' professional ethos as therapeutic experts with lessons from the retail marketing and branding literature with the aim of achieving image congruence and business success are explored. Originality/value – A contribution is made to the understanding of the UK retail pharmacy sector, as well as the complex interaction between professional healthcare provision and retail marketing in relation to the self-concept and business practice of independent pharmacists.

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