Online Shopping in the Consumer Healthcare Sector: What Consumers Want and What Deters Them

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Sabrina Mueller

Sabrina Müller

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Cologne, Germany

Mail-order business is booming. Even before the coronavirus crisis, experts predicted steady growth in the online share of non-prescription drugs. The current situation is leading to a further massive increase in the share of mail-order sales. A recent study by Simon-Kucher & Partners conducted before the global COVID-19 outbreak sheds light on consumers' online purchasing behavior regarding consumer healthcare (CHC) products and explains how CHC providers can improve their sales activities on internet platforms to grow online successfully.

May 25, 2020 – Around 47 percent of British end consumers have purchased non-prescription drugs by mail order. This is the finding of the study Online Purchasing Behavior in the Consumer Healthcare Sector* conducted by the global strategy and marketing consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners. Compared to other European countries, the UK has a rather small share. In Germany for example, three quarters of the population has ordered non-prescription drugs online before, in the UK it is only half of the population“. The amount of mail-order business is increasing across all countries. The coronavirus crisis will reinforce this effect not only over the short term but also the long term. Many customers who are buying CHC products via the online channel for the first time during the crisis will continue to do so once it ends,” comments Christian Rebholz, consumer healthcare expert and Partner in the global Life Sciences division at Simon-Kucher & Partners.


Price remains the main reason for shopping online 

Forty-two percent of British consumers surveyed say price advantages are a key driver why they buy non-prescription drugs online instead of at brick-and-mortar pharmacies. “Price is still the number one criterion for consumers, and it is key for deciding whether they buy online or in a brick-and-mortar pharmacy,” says Christian Rebholz. “However, comfort and convenience are also playing an increasingly important role in consumers’ shopping behavior.” In fact, 36 percent of consumers who shop online appreciate the larger selection of products. For a third of online shoppers, time savings through purchasing at mail-order pharmacies is what sets it apart from brick-and-mortar pharmacies.


Affinity for shopping online varies between customer and product groups

It’s important for CHC providers to know their target group well in order to respond to customer wishes and needs accordingly. The study results show that affinity for online shopping and reasons for buying can vary significantly between individual customer segments. Similarly, the importance of being able to purchase an item online differs considerably across product categories. For example, products with well-known and established brands, such as cold remedies and painkillers, seem trustworthy to consumers, making it easier for them to buy these products online. 
“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for a successful strategy on the online channel,” says Rebholz. “CHC providers need to align their marketing, sales, and pricing strategies with their product portfolio and target groups. This is only possible if they segment their customers and products clearly.”


Fear of counterfeiting deters consumers

The study also reveals what discourages consumers from buying CHC products online and what makes them prefer shopping in a brick-and-mortar pharmacy instead. For 36 percent of consumers the fear of counterfeiting is a deterring factor, and 32 percent say they simply never thought of buying online. For Dr. Clemens Oberhammer, pharmacy market expert and Partner in the global Life Sciences division at Simon-Kucher, this shows the need of building trust for online channels. “CHC manufacturers need to ensure a consistent brand perception and a professional appearance of their products in the online channel. Additionally, providers have to raise awareness of those channels and emphasize their benefits beyond price advantages.” 


*About the study: The study Online Purchasing Behavior in the Consumer Healthcare Sector was conducted by Simon-Kucher & Partners in early 2020. It examined online purchasing behavior for non-prescription drugs (over-the-counter/OTC) and surveyed 500 end consumers in five European countries (Germany, France, the UK, Poland, and Russia) for a total of 2,500 participants. The full study is available on request.


Simon-Kucher & Partners, Strategy & Marketing Consultants: 
Simon-Kucher & Partners is a global consulting firm with more than 1,400 professionals in 39 offices worldwide focusing on TopLine Power®. Founded in 1985, the company has 35 years of experience providing strategy and marketing consulting and is regarded as the world’s leading pricing advisor.