Picture the scene: you walk into a pharmacy and – where there used to be shelves stocked full of medication – you find high-tech monitors. Or, better still, instead of traditional shop windows there are LED screens, used for selecting and purchasing products. Perhaps it seems over the top, but the pharmacy of the future is sure to be digital.
The increasing popularity of the Farmakom platform confirms that. Farmakom is a SaaS (software as a service) system, created by a team of Italians in 2016. It allows pharmacies to open their own e-commerce channels for selling over-the-counter medicines online. The platform has links with Farma Dati, a leading company in pharmaceutical industry databases, and provides references for all over-the-counter medicines being sold, bringing pharmacist and consumer closer to each other. In just two years the system has achieved record results. The 25 Italian pharmacies using Farmakom have seen exponential growth in sales and have taken a total of 11 million euros to date.
In 2017, e-commerce for pharmacies in Italy grew by 17%, taking a total of 96 million euros, while across Europe they are expected to grow 9.3% by 2021, for a total of 13 billion euros
According to the IFTF (the Palo Alto Institute for the Future), within 10 years, every company – regardless of sector – will have to become a digital company in order to survive. After years as the domain of only the largest digital companies, technology is transforming all kinds of businesses, in every sector – even that of pharmacies.
The Italian Association for Marketing Development (Associazione Italiana Sviluppo Marketing) has judged e-commerce to be a hugely important and expanding market, including for the pharmaceutical sector. “In 2017, e-commerce for pharmacies in Italy grew by 17%, taking a total of 96 million euros, while across Europe they are expected to grow 9.3% by 2021, for a total of 13 billion euros.
The most common model today is a pharmacy that combines the virtual and physical worlds, which turns the internet into a way of meeting the needs of increasingly informed customers, who have more demands and are more interested in using technology. In a study on the digitalisation process pharmacies in Italy are undergoing, the University of Milan examined the position of Italian pharmacies within the digital landscape. It presented the results at the 2018 Cosmofarma Exhibition in Bologna. The study involved almost 200 professionals from all over Italy and revealed a complex situation that is still very much under development.
Just half of the pharmacies confirmed they have invested in some form of digitalisation. The percentage drops to just over 40% for those who have some knowledge of strategy, technology and results. What drew the attention of the 73.5% of pharmacy owners towards digitalisation was, 67% of the time, the need to look to the future. Data from Federfarma (a national federation representing private pharmacies) shows that since April 2018, just 550 pharmacies and 100 commercial businesses have applied for Ministry of Health authorisation to sell online.
The reason is perhaps simpler than it appears: while the digital future of pharmacy as a profession may seem increasingly obvious, Italy is still struggling to create digital services that support companies and allow them to set up an e-commerce channel with relative ease.
The process certainly cannot be stopped and the role of digital pharmacists – experts both in their sector and in managing online marketing and product sale – is a very real prospect, one that could open new development routes within the profession.