The changing behaviour series: Pharmacies

With 2020 well and truly behind us, we’re  continuing to look at different verticals within the UK market that provide an interesting view of the changing habits of consumers  and provide a barometer of what we might expect as we prepare for the end of the third and final UK lockdown. 

We thought it would be interesting to look at the pharmaceutical chains whose ‘essential retail’ status has allowed them to remain a permanent fixture on the high street throughout the crisis. By looking at the pharmaceutical category we are able to get a read on consumer sentiment now that most things are closed. We know that when consumers have had the opportunity to engage with physical retail in Q4 of last year they have readily done so.

Looking at how visitation to essential stores now, and comparing it to the levels seen in previous lockdowns, gives brands a benchmark to understand how consumers are thinking and how they may behave upon reopening.

As we know, their protected status did not entirely shield these retailers from the prevailing wider consumer trends and that visitation was significantly reduced during both the first and second lockdowns. 

However, our data shows a consistent pattern of visitation recovery since March 2020 as consumers acclimatised to a COVID-19 world and the ever-changing lockdown rules that led to greater engagement with retail in the physical world.

The strong performance of Boots and Superdrug as 2020 progressed may be due to the retail therapy these shops could provide while beauty brand specialists – such as the Body Shop and Lush – have had their physical relationship with consumers broken for much of the last year.

We also see an interesting consumer trend when we look at the relative performance of Lloyd’s pharmacy, Boots, Superdrug and Holland & Barrett over the last 12 months. During each lockdown, our data showed Holland & Barrett considerably underperformed its peers and Lloyd’s markedly increased its share, which would appear to reflect a shift in consumer thinking and need states from lifestyle to more pragmatic purchases. 

This is supported by a look at Google Trends which found a significant difference in the related searches for Holland & Barrett which revolved around specific vitamins vs. Boots and Superdrug that focused on COVID-19 related products such as anti-bacterial gel and face masks. 

It’s not simply national lockdowns that influence consumer behaviour, our in-depth analysis shows that recovery varies considerably at a regional level based on government restrictions as well as the physical and lasting mental impact of COVID-19. 

Despite the significant disruption of consumer movement that has taken place since March 2020 and the migration from major cities that has been observed, London has seen the strongest recovery vs. other UK regions. As such, activation in the recovery stage should look to incorporate a regional approach whether this is in terms of the messaging, the types of media used, or the metrics for success.

We’ll continue to monitor visitation patterns as the country collectively counts down to the total end of lockdown, currently projected to be 21st June 2021, and the much needed opportunity of recovery this will afford the retail and leisure sectors.

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