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Say You'll Stay
Adam Ferrier
Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier shares 3 strategies to provide a better health care experience for your patients.

Life for today’s consumer is hectic, within our fast paced lifestyle ‘shopping’ fits into one of two camps: leisure or recreational shopping, and utility-focused shopping. The pharmacy category is very much the latter. People, by and large want the pharmacy experience to be easy, and they want to leave feeling confident they’ve made the right health choices – after all they are primarily in a pharmacy because they are looking after their own or their family’s health. So what can we do to make pharmacy a valuable and engaging experience, where they’ll be able to better meet their health needs? Below you’ll see 3 strategies that will ensure you better meet your customer needs. However, before I show you these I need to share with you some general principles about how people make decisions.

Consumer psychologist ADAM FERRIER shares 3 strategies to provide a better health care experience for your patients.


The work of behavioural economist Daniel Kahnerman1 has shown that our brain operates in two different modalities: System 1 and System 2. System 1 is fast, automatic, emotional, and subconscious. It is like the autopilot on a plane. It’s assumptive, and it doesn’t bother to systematically work things out, preferring instead to be intuitive and working with ‘the general vibe of the thing’ (it processes around 11 million bits of information a second – so some assumptions need to be made!) System 2 on the other hand is slow, effortful, logical, and calculating.

But more than anything else it’s LAZY, and can only process around 40 bits of information a second. We don’t like to turn on our System 2 style of thought, we reserve if for when we really need to stop and work something out. (Unless you’re really paying attention you are more than probably skimming though this in System 1. Although now I have your attention you might stop skimming and switch into System 2 – which means the rest of the article will be slower and more tiresome to read – but you’ll extract more). Unsurprisingly we like to ‘shop’ in System 1, especially for routine purchases (the kind we often go into pharmacies for). That is we put minimal effort into the shop – largely completing it on autopilot. The autopilot likes simplicity and clarity. It avoids complexity. Human behaviour in this way is a little like electricity; it follows the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, one of the more complicated and difficult environments I’ve come across is the local pharmacy (perhaps the only store more confusing and cluttered is the local wine merchant!) The layouts of many pharmacies are often cluttered and difficult to negotiate. If we want to make it easier to help our customers manage their family’s health needs there are a number of things we can do. So, here are 3 suggestions.

Say You'll stay



‘The jam study’ is perhaps the most famous of all consumer psychology experiments2. In this study a sampling station was set up in a store. Some people were offered 24 jams to try, and others were offered six jams to try. The impact was those who were asked to trial between (just) six were significantly more likely to purchase. It’s called ‘the paradox of choice’,and stated simply means the more alternatives there are to choose from, the harder it is to make a choice, and when things are too hard we tend to then avoid the choice completely (as we are using in System 1) and tend not select anything. The impact of this research is to de-clutter your pharmacy. And I don’t mean just the shelves: also the services you offer. Make it easier for people to find what they are looking for, and make it easier for them to ask for your advice. Paradoxically, make it easier for the health consumer by giving them less alternatives to choose from. On this point, always give a default recommendation – make sure they have benefited from your guidance.

• Offer less categories.
• Offer less alternatives within each category.
• De-clutter the pharmacy.
• Always provide a recommendation (it demonstrates interest in them as patients and reinforces the value of the pharmacy service).


There is a wonderful phenomenon called ‘The Endowment Effect’3 which means people will value something significantly more if they have a sense of ownership over something.

Your customers hold important opinions about you, your pharmacy and whether you are delivering on your health promise. Encourage your customers to have a sense of ownership. Doing market research with your consumers will also make them more loyal to you (we become more positively predisposed to whoever is doing the research – yes we like having our opinion asked for).

Encourage your staff to have a sense of ownership. Training your staff on particular health issues will not only be of benefit to your customers, but will give people a sense of ownership over particular health issues. This may well encourage them to further their interest in such areas. If employees are empowered with knowledge, training, and perhaps peer recognition, then ultimately the customer benefits from better health care advice.

• Do market research to understand your patients better - what are their needs, what are the needs of the local community?
• Enable your staff to become experts in specific areas.


Now I know this one feels a little obvious but please compare the pharmacies you know to just about any other retail category. We are not very good at branding ourselves (most pharmacies kind of feel the same). This is probably a function of having grown up within the medical model (which in general has been slow to understand the power of brands). So, what’s your brand promise, what are your values? How do you differentiate yourself from other pharmacies near you?Again as we like to shop in System 1 we like to shop with brands that have a very clear and differentiated offer.

Let’s start with your pharmacy’s name – does it have the word pharmacy or chemist in it? Do you need it? It should be pretty obvious what you are (supermarkets, and cafés rarely say what they are – they don’t need to – so nor do you). You can create any brand you want, and have your pharmacy’s complete look and feel be anything you want. Why does yours look like all the others (if it does)? How does this brand resonate across everything that you do, from the look of the pharmacy to the actions and behaviour of the employees? We will go into this in more detail in future issues.

• Have a clear brand promise.
• Find ways to deliver on that promise.

So, as my first piece of writing with you I hope that I have not overstepped the mark. I admire pharmacy and have spent a lot of time in pharmacies. As a psychologist and marketer I also know how much more potential there is within this profession. We can better deliver on our customers’ needs if we think of them first, and deliver what they want. By doing this you maintain your central role as a health care professional within your community.

1 Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking Fast and Slow. New York: Macmillan.
2 Iyengar, S. &Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing. Personality Processes and Individual Differences.
3 Carmon, Z. &Ariely, D. (2000) ‘Focusing on the Forgone: How Value Can Appear So Different to Buyers and Sellers’ Journal of Consumer Research. 27(3), 360-370