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Canadian Pharmacies since 2010: Changes in a Highly Regulated Sector

Pharmacies since 2010In 2010, nearly 30,000 pharmacies were active in Canada. They achieved a turnover of 50 billion dollars. In recent years, growth in the value of the traditionally dynamic pharmaceutical retail trade has been dulled, in line with the decline in the prices of reimbursable medicines. Nevertheless, the commercial margin rate has been rising since 2010 and reached 43% in 2019.

Settling in the online pharmacy environment is complicated for new players: it is necessary to have a physical pharmacy in addition to all the marketing and e-marketing skills necessary for the prospection of customers, without forgetting of course the logistics which remains an essential link in the e-commerce chain. It is also interesting to think about all the procedures, as well as to respect the regulatory constraints that apply like the obligation of verification of each order of medicines by a pharmacist. The controls of official bodies at this level are frequent.

Moreover, at the level of the preparation of orders, the sector presents some constraints like the impossibility to outsource the logistics. Everything has to be managed internally because the medicines go under the responsibility of the pharmacist in charge.

The Fight of Advertising

The e-pharmacy sector is constantly stirred by ethical and advertising warfare between physical pharmacies, online pharmacies, order of pharmacists and official legal organizations. Online Canadian pharmacies were not allowed to advertise as paid referencing or price comparators despite the huge growth lever that these strategies represent in e-commerce. In Canada, this prohibition was enshrined in law. This pressure put on by the physical pharmacies and the government was slowing the growth and evolution of the sector. At the least advertising action, there were reprimands, reminders to the legal order, even sanctions.

Added to this is the bad reputation with a part of the general public that can have the online sale of drugs, a negative perception due to online counterfeiting websites and their invasive and inappropriate promotions. This threatens the image of online pharmacies that respect the laws, and the perception that patients had of them.

Future E-commerce and Evolutions of a Canadian Pharmacy

Still a lot needs to be done in the online health sector. Since 2010, the sector has evolved enormously. According to, online drug sales (without prescription) currently represent 30% of drug sales in Canada. However, our American neighbors already carry 35% of their drug sales online. In place since the early 2000s, our border friends have taken a little (a lot) ahead of Canadian pharmacists. We must therefore expect a strong growth of Canadian market in the coming years, reinforced by the growing trend of e-commerce.

Unfortunately, the sector cannot evolve if it is constantly blocked by a non-harmonized legislative framework at American and Canadian level. Some players advocate a move to selling prescription drugs online and this could be a huge leap for the sector. These countries are already selling prescription drugs online.

Marketing, Communication and Sale of Medicines Online

At the marketing level, the ideal future for online Canadian pharmacies would be to be able to share the market with American and Mexican competitors without either of them being favored by the legislative framework of their country.

On the marketing network side, Google, which is by far the most used search engine in the United States and Canada, is also subject to restrictions on the distribution of advertisements for the pharmacy sector on its network. Google blocks regularly search terms that may be closely related to drugs. For the anecdote, in 2011, Google has advertised in the United States to promote prescription drugs, an error that has earned a net worth 500 million U.S. Dollars. Google is now much more attentive to the ads on its network, the search engine does not hesitate to call to order its advertisers at the slightest gap.

Finally, one of the last challenges of the sector is at the level of offline promotion. For the moment, many online pharmacies focus on online promotion but in the future, an evolution of online pharmacies to an online and offline mix could be a development track. In this spirit, the construction of notoriety via TV, radio and other offline media will be one of the major marketing challenges for any player in the sector. It will take a little more patience to foresee an online pharmacy on your small screen.

What Changes Are to Be Expected?

In Canada, health landscape is changing, and with it, pharmacies. At the heart of this revolution, they must reinvent themselves to meet the demands of today’s consumer. Pharmacies are facing declining sales of refundable drugs. Thus, they must find new growth paths to develop their business subject to numerous regulatory, economic, etc. measures.

Pharmacies are competing over time with online sales and mass distribution; threats that weigh mainly on small structures. In 10 years, there have been more than 1,000 closures, half of which are related to a grouping or transfer of customers. This consolidation of the sector has led to the emergence of pharmacies groups, regional or national.

Despite this, the market remains very fragmented. Because, if almost 100% of pharmacies are now members of a group, only a third are under signs. The concepts around the low cost, naturalness and well-being. They share a common goal: to optimize commercial efficiency to guarantee growth or at least their survival; and the same methods inspired by mass retailing.

Wide Distributed Inspiration

Most pharmacies have understood the need to take the codes of large retailers: thinking about the queues, proposal of loyalty cards and events, promotions and seasonal offers, relaxation or training space, sections dedicated to specific targets or contexts (children, baby, pregnancy, sport), own brands, magazine and/or blog, Facebook page, etc. And this is especially true for big brands!

In this quest for innovation, it is not a question of forgetting one’s image. The strength of pharmacies also lies in the ability of pharma teams to create a (physical) link with their patients and to provide serious advice, in addition or in place of that of the health professional. An environment that must remain medical is a guarantee of security for a client/patient. This is far from antagonistic with expanding its playing field by making itself visible and accessible online, on the model of mass consumption.

The Digital Shift

More than 77% of cyber-buyers are women, mothers or pet owners. 44% are between 25 and 34 years old.  Online health is very real and has even accelerated in recent months, including e-prescription and smart card on smartphone. In 2019, there was launched an experiment in the electronic prescribing of drugs in order, ultimately, to improve the coordination of health professionals and the observance of treatments. The idea is to generalize it in 2020 to the whole territory. Same operation on the side of the smart card on smartphone that is tested from the summer of 2019 for a generalization by 2021.

Today, the creation of Canadian pharmacies online is within reach of all. The physical signs will always be present because the e-commerce will never replace the proximity with its pharmacist. Nevertheless, it is about rendering service to its consumers and differentiating themselves. This is especially true in cities with high pharmacy density: online payment, news presentation, interaction with the customer community, delivery, click and collect. There are lots of benefits.

A Website Is Not Everything: Social Networks Are There!

It is also an essential means of communication to create traffic within the physical point of sale or online pharmacy. And these social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) also offer online sales: an opportunity to directly market your food supplements and other pharmaceutical products with a “buy” button on your Facebook page. To choose the right drug for their symptoms, 2/3 of respondents trust their pharmacist, with a score of 9 out of 10 on the board. So, Canadian pharmacy is an excellent environment to spread the good messages: the customer is receptive!

Online Diagnosis in Canada

In nutrition, in front of the multitude of products, brands, information, there are perfect opportunities to accompany the customer in the choice of ood supplements and good hygienic and dietary measures. A tailor-made consulting service to save time for bot clients and a pharmacist while promoting advice at the counter would be a real plus and an excellent way to differentiate.

Dispenser Brands

As you can see, there are many opportunities for Canadian pharmacies provided they take the right turns: digitalization of the point of sale and services, customization of products and advice, seduction operations retailing way, and it is not is more than one option. A consumer does not really leave a choice.

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