How is a pharmacy like a delicatessen?

May 10, 2014

Extra points if you can use the word "bone-headed" in your answer.

Jim Plagakis“Is that blood?” asked the pharmacist. She leaned over the counseling counter and touched my elbow. “I’ll get the first aid kit.”

I looked at my forearm. Yup, it was blood. From a spot below the left elbow, there was a rivulet of bright crimson that extended all the way to my wrist. “Don’t need first aid,” I assured her. “A wet paper towel will be good enough.”

She frowned. “That’s a lot of blood.”

“It’s Plavix blood,” I said. “I scraped my arm on a shelf.” I wiped the offending blood track and, with a few swipes, my arm was bloodless other than the tiny spot where the scab had been.

“That still looked like a lot of blood.”

“Clopidogrel blood,” I said. “It doesn’t bleed. It sort of oozes. It’s more like drying jelly on the skin, not drying blood. Thanks for the paper towel.”

She looked expectantly at the stock clerk who had led me to the pharmacy. He stared back, clueless, so I spoke up.

 

Lawn chairs and Stopzit

“Why am I back here?” I asked.

All I wanted was a little bottle of Stopzit. Nail-biters paint bad-tasting Stopzit on their fingertips in hopes of breaking the habit. I wanted it to discourage a puppy from biting furniture.

“Stopzit is not a pharmacy item,” I said. I looked at the clerk. “Why did you bring me here instead of cosmetics?”

“That is what he is supposed to do,” the pharmacist said. 

“Nothing new,” I said. “They’ve been expecting pharmacists to have all the answers for as long as I’ve worked in this industry.”

“Lawn chairs,” she said.  “First customer in the door got all huffy because I didn’t know where the $9.99 lawn chairs were.”

There she was, a well-trained medical professional, doing lawn chairs and Stopzit.

To make matters worse, she practiced in a Target store, where the front-and-center pharmacist was engulfed in the Aqua Velva cloud that envelops some customers.

 

Up close and personal

Management has been trying to get the customer up close and personal to the pharmacist for decades. The motive? A perceived competitive advantage.

Grocery stores need to mind their own business, but they have wanted in on the expected prescription landslide. Some of their Rx departments are really pretty, but many of them (for example, the newer Publix models) put the customer so close to the pharmacist, with no glass, that it is impossible for the pharmacist to provide superior counseling. At some point, the pharmacist has to do some work. 

Contrary to what the Publix MBAs had planned, having the pharmacist so accessible ticks people off. “Hey, Druggist Dude, you ignoring me? I’m standing right here.” “Buddy, I should kick the …” “Hey, you. Look at me. I asked you a question.”

That is not going to happen at Costco. There is enough glass that nobody is going to shout lawn-chair questions. The pharmacist’s work area is out of sight. The counseling area is large and private. Costco does a lot right in its stores, and the designers of the prescription department hit a home run.

 

What’s the difference?

Walgreens too. I spent five years behind a WAG prescription counter, and I was never insulted by a “Hey, you” question. I answered questions and did plenty of OTC counseling, but I was so removed and free to do my tasks at the prescription mill that I initiated contact with patients or a technician called me over. I wasn’t in a hidey hole. I could read concern on the face of a young mother. A mature woman biting her lip as she read her Rx label always got me there straightaway.

What’s the difference? It has to be the executives who gave the designers their marching orders. This is not the deli, fellas. Prescription medicine is not pastrami. Encouraging the customer to watch the pharmacist’s every movement is counterproductive. It just slows her down. Costco knows that.

My question to WAG: You usually do what works. What were you thinking? Were you thinking?