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There are lots of stories that start with how retail used to be. As some of the great American department stores fade away, they are reminders of what was once an elegant and successful combination of service and selection. Corner drugstores were also iconic centers of community and consumption, offering a broad spectrum of products, and providing a place to gather due to the nearly ubiquitous, but now effectively extinct, soda fountain.

The special connection between these types of businesses and their customers transcended the products that were sold. It was, in effect, 'experiential', a term used often today to describe where retail is going rather than where it came from. Advice and guidance were paramount in creating a great experience for the customer. And it's this human aspect which will be the great differentiator in retail today, particularly for pharmacy.


As retail starts to swing away from the commoditized, big box, 'self-serve' models which have dominated in recent decades, many retailers have failed to address changes in consumer behavior as products, technology, and general shopping preferences evolved. In 2017, US retail closed approximately 9,000 stores with 50 chains filing for bankruptcy[1]. The competitive pricing and selection of Walmart and online retailers undoubtedly present a difficult challenge, yet some retailers, (and specifically Pharmacy retailers) are sitting on un-realized assets which could differentiate their offering and develop a loyal bond with their customers. Here are the areas we see having the greatest opportunity:

The first reality is that mediocrity is a retail killer. There is simply not room for 'average' anymore. In today's retail world, selection is nearly infinite with omnichannel, but with all that choice comes inevitably, a greater need of guidance. Do peer reviews and likes from unfamiliar individuals, (who may or may not be a real person) really do the job? Only if you're buying a truly commoditized product and you have absolute level of certainty that it's the best decision based on a combination of factors most important to you.

With the tremendous development in technology and innovation; EVERYONE is striving to move away from commoditization to differentiate. No more is a bar of soap, just a bar of soap. It now has key ingredients of wheat and green tea, and is available in 27 varieties of color, scent, and size.

While much of this incredible variety does not always translate to bricks & mortar; quite a bit actually does. Walk down the aisles of a retail pharmacy, even a small one, and you will see the amazing assortment of products that exists today. Even in the more mundane categories. A typical US pharmacy has over 15,000 SKUs.

Faced with variety, choice and overwhelming quantities of information, customers are looking for guidance and service from someone who is knowledgeable, and someone they trust. The pharmacy occupies a special place at the crossroads of retail and healthcare. With the right service for the right products, it cuts through the endless suspect analyses and recommendations and provides a true connection between the customer and the place, the bricks & mortar location, that breeds trust and loyalty.

The true ace in the pharmacy hand is the pharmacological doctor on staff to be the spear-point to building that loyalty. In a 2017 Gallup poll, pharmacists were ranked as the 5th most trusted and ethical professionals in the US. Pharmacists have been in the top 5 of 22 listed professions for 15+ years, further reinforcing the value of that role.[2] With the right proposition for the customer, it's the human interaction that elevates physical pharmacy over any online competitors.

Bricks & mortar pharmacies are many times the most accessible point of contact, medically, for consumers. While the need for prescription guidance is considered a given, the opportunity being missed by many pharmacy retailers is extending personal guidance to its front end store products.

Through our work with retail pharmacies, we've seen that even in categories considered predominantly self-service, the customer is looking for assistance. Personal care customers in general, and the shampoo category in particular, benefits from assisted selection in 40% of transactions.[3] Understanding the critical categories and strategically designing the space to best utilize store resources will go a long way to providing customers the experience they seek, helping reinforce loyalty and generating greater sales. While this can be a challenge for retailers with hundreds of stores and millions of customers, clever use of insights from customer data can help the pharmacy provide superior service through individually crafted recommendations provided on demand when needed.

Tailored assortment, merchandising, and appropriate pricing and promotions built using customer data, will further build customer trust rather than erode it. Over time and through consistent execution, the pharmacy of the future will prove its value through developing the unique relationship between pharmacist and customer. And the humble corner drugstore will once again be viewed as a valued pillar of the community.

[1] https://www.forbes.comhttps://www.dunnhumby.com/sites/blakemorgan/2018/01/06/the-upside-of-a-retail-apocalypse

[2] https://news.gallup.com/poll/224639/nurses-keep-healthy-lead-honest-ethical-profession.aspx

[3] As observed through dunnhumby research

[This is the fourth in a series of articles advocating the voice of the Customer in the highly competitive food-retail industry. David Ciancio is Global Customer Strategist for dunnhumby, a pioneer in Customer data science, serving the world's most Customer-centric brands in a number of industries, including retail. David has 48 years experience in retail, 25 of which were in Store Management. He can be reached at David.Ciancio@dunnhumby.com].

Treating Customers differently based on their 'profitability' is counter-productive to building loyalty and toward creating a healthy retail Customer Experience.


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Memories of panic buying may be fading here in the UK but have resurfaced elsewhere1. The near constant threat of another wave of Covid-19 may yet prompt another round of hyper demand. Whilst there is little hard evidence to determine the underlying drivers of panic buying2, there are numerous theories that the retail industry may benefit from exploring.

Feroud Seeparsand, dunnhumby's Senior Consumer Psychologist, outlines some likely theories to explain the 'why' behind the 'panic buy' and some implications for retailers to prevent it reoccurring in future.

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The dunnhumby Consumer Pulse Survey is a multi-phased, worldwide study of the impact of COVID-19 on customer attitudes and behavior. We surveyed more than 27,000 respondents online in 22 countries, with interviews conducted for Wave one from March 29 – April 1, for Wave two from April 11 – 14, and for Wave three from May 27 – 31. Due to the rapidly unfolding crisis in North America, dunnhumby conducted Wave four from July 9 – 12 in the U.S., Canada and Mexico only. Here are highlights from the study:

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In a series of posts published earlier this year, we covered the results of the dunnhumby Customer Pulse – a global study designed to explore changing consumer mindsets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over three waves, conducted between March and the end of May, we polled thousands of people from more than 20 countries on subjects including supermarkets' responses to the outbreak, the economic outlook, and how their shopping behaviour had changed due to COVID.

At the beginning of September – three months on from the previous wave and with supply chains stable and the changing nature of lockdowns – we wanted to revisit the Customer Pulse to see what, if anything, had changed. Below are some of the standout findings from this fourth tranche of research.

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assorted fruits at the market

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

In the decade since Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness was published, nudge theory has enjoyed unprecedented success.

Predicated on the idea that individuals respond better to indirect suggestion than outright commands, nudge theory is commonly used as a way of subtly influencing our behaviour towards positive choices. The idea has gained such traction, in fact, that many governments around the world have created "nudge units" in a bid to tackle thorny issues like obesity and the climate emergency.

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Are you looking to increase your contactable Customer base? How much money are you losing on incorrectly identified Customer communications? Throughout our 30 years of big data experience working with clients across industries around the globe, we have found that maintaining contact through relevant Customer engagement is a crucial component of putting the Customer First.

Essential to preserving contact data is ensuring that you have the most up-to-date information from your Customers; not an easy task. On average, people in the United States will move an average of 12 times in their lifetime. United States Postal Service data indicates 14% of the population change addresses annually. As email contact has grown, it's important to note that, on average, 30% of people change their email addresses each year. This is driven by ISP or job changes, or just to stop being spammed. As people move away from home phones to primarily mobile devices, phone numbers are stabilizing as consumers maintain the same numbers through physical moves.

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It's a well-worn phrase by now, but it's true that the COVID-19 crisis has drastically altered the global retail landscape. Here in the Asia-Pacific region, a majority of markets are now looking past the panic of the first wave and towards the future. In this series of articles, we'll explore how grocery retailers must adapt to a more omnichannel reality to thrive in a post-pandemic world.

The new wave of online grocery customers

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis we've seen the sharp rise and fall of many trends. As countries veered from one phase of the pandemic to the next, we've seen everything from panic-buying and stockpiling, to a booming demand for hygiene products. While some of these trends have stuck, the resumption of a more 'normal' life in many parts of the Asia-Pacific have seen others tail off.

One trend which is set to stay is in eCommerce, particularly within grocery. Lockdown drove a surge to online grocers the likes of which we have never seen – and it seems customers have been convinced by the online experience. According to multiple recent studies[1] China's grocery eCommerce market, already a booming sector with 29% growth last year, is now tipped to grow by 60% this year as the coronavirus has driven whole new segments of customers to the online grocery market. The trend is also sustaining; the main growth driver in JD.com's record-breaking '618' event this year was grocery, with sales almost doubling[2].

While general retail has been building momentum online for some years, grocery has been something of a laggard, rarely accounting for more than 15% of the overall grocery market. Historically the major barrier to entry to online grocery has been trust – over 50% of customers do not trust online grocery deliveries to pick the freshest and best items[3]. For years this has been a catch-22 scenario for retailers: customers don't trust the quality of online grocery because they haven't tried it, but they won't try online grocery because they don't trust the quality.

COVID-19 has caused a new wave of customers to finally take a leap of faith into digital grocery. Retailers can be happy that they've won new customers online, but now comes the hard work of retaining them.

The need for Customer Infrastructure

Much has been made of retailers' attempts to keep up with surging online demand during the early phases of the pandemic. Even in globally advanced eCommerce markets like the UK, the lead retailer has had to significantly expand delivery capacity to keep up with demand[4]. In order to meet the needs of new customers, retailers have rightly focused on having the right physical infrastructure in place.

However, if retailers want to keep meeting the needs of customers, they'll now need to focus on a different kind of infrastructure - the online customer experience.

The ease of shopping online is a double-edged sword for retailers. If customers can shop online with one retailer, they can shop online with any retailer. Your competitor store is no longer 1 kilometre away, it is one click away. Customers can literally browse competitor shop windows while they are in your store, and for countless retailers in the Asia-Pac region where online sales have historically been low, their digital stores may be looking rather outdated.

So while you may have won new customers, the fight to keep them is much more challenging.

Getting the digital experience right

The principles of great customer experience online are the same as instore. It's about helping customers easily find what they want. It's about helping customers feel they've got a good deal. It's about having a well-laid out store. Fundamentally, a great digital experience is about putting customers first and responding to their needs. Thankfully, the nature of eCommerce makes it possible to know these needs in detail through the wealth of data available to retailers. The data you're likely already collecting will tell you everything required to build a better overall and individual shopping experience for each customer who shops online.

Here are 3 ways retailers can act now to build a winning customer experience online:

  1. Bring the offline online
    Your customers may be new online, but many of them will be existing offline shoppers. Their loyalty card history enables you to show them items they already buy. Better still, predictive data science can detect which of those items are staple and regular purchases that each customer might need right now – helping them quickly and efficiently build a basket based on their own personal behaviour. This knowledge can also help act as an online virtual assistant, helping customers find substitutes for out of stock products and prompting them with items they may have forgotten to add at the checkout.
  2. Make it easy to find value
    In a world where customers can price compare at the flick of a tab, maintaining price perception is vital. This is easier said than done online, as customers won't spend time browsing the 500 products you have on special that week. Instead, use relevancy algorithms to curate your promotions list at the customer level using their previous behaviour, and show each customer the offers that actually matter to them.
  3. Optimise the navigation
    Newer online customers tend to use online search and taxonomy functions much more than experienced online shoppers. If your online category flow is unclear, difficult to interpret or poorly arranged, shoppers will have a harder and more frustrating experience. Equally, if their searches lead to incorrect or blank results, customers will quickly lose patience. Site analytics data in the hands of an expert is a goldmine for optimising the online navigation – from naming and arranging categories in a strong taxonomy to eliminating poor-performing searches.

Retailers in Asia have a limited window of time to win the continued business of new online customers. As these customers become more familiar with the experience, the greater will be their demands and their likelihood to look elsewhere when their experience is sub-optimal.

At dunnhumby, we've been advising grocery retailers on digital best practise for over 10 years, led by 30+ years of leading experience in data science and we have developed a range of products for retailers to deliver exactly these kinds of industry-leading customer experience online, powered by retail data.

In the next part of our series on the post-COVID landscape in Asia-Pacific, we'll explore the diverging needs of customers in the wake of the pandemic, and how omnichannel personalisation can help retailers meet those needs efficiently and effectively.

[1] E-commerce drives China's stay-at-home economy in coronavirus aftermath & China's online grocery sector set for explosive growth, says GlobalData

[2] Chinese shoppers are staying online. That's great news for JD.com

[3] Study cites barriers to online grocery shopping

[4] Tesco Delivers One Million Online Orders In A Week In The UK

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In the first episode of Customer First Radio, Dave Clements, Global Head of Retail for dunnhumby and David Ciancio, Global Head of Grocery for dunnhumby kick off the series by discussing what it means to be a truly Customer First business, share which retailers and brands today embody a Customer First mindset, and examine how Customer First materialized during the pandemic with retailers.

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Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

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The Prophets of Aisle Six is the first online reality series focusing on innovation in the food retail industry. In this episode, Jose Gomes, dunnhumby's North America Managing Director, travels to the downtown Cleveland store of Heinen's Fine Foods. Jose meets with Tom and Jeff Heinen, co-owners and brothers, and learns how they are evolving their grandfather's mission of delivering excellent customer service. With 23 stores in Northeast Ohio and the greater Chicago area, and a 90-year legacy, Heinen's is proving that being a small retailer can be an advantage when it comes to data.

In this series, dunnhumby tours the globe and speaks with some of the world's greatest brands, exploring their biggest challenges and how they are using customer data science to meet those challenges.


In my last post, I posed five questions to retailers to help them determine whether they're ready for a customer-first mindset. Now, I'd like to challenge the retail basics that seasoned retailers were trained on, and suggest instead a new customer data science approach.

"Retail is detail" is common industry wisdom, and it means that achieving success is subtle and difficult. Success in any field demands practice and experience, and so it is little wonder that many senior retail and brand leaders and managers have vast years of involvement, and that most have grown up through the business in progressive steps.

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