With three stores in rural locations, the importance of community is ingrained in the culture of Inish Pharmacy.
The company’s employees work hard to understand the needs of the people who shop in their pharmacies in Buncrana, Carndonagh and Muff in Inishowen, Co Donegal. The customers are, after all, also their neighbours, friends and family.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on how Inish Pharmacy does business. As an essential business, their shops are open but social distancing measures have been implemented for the safety of both customers and staff.
Not surprisingly, footfall is down, and shop sales have fallen considerably. Were it not for the performance of Inish’s online shop, the company and its employees might be facing an uncertain future.
Inish Pharmacy director Paul O’Hea says: “Online has gone through an exceptionally busy period. There’s a huge demand for healthcare but people don’t want to go out or can’t go out, so they’re shopping online. Prior to the coronavirus, online was probably 25 percent of our sales, but in the last couple of months there has seen a huge increase.”
Having been trading online for a number of years, Inish Pharmacy already had an established customer base – but it was only at the beginning of 2019 that the company started to discover their online potential. Inish received funding in February 2019 from the Online Retail Scheme, a grant administered by Enterprise Ireland on behalf of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation to help retail businesses improve their online capability.
Inish developed a strategy to improve customer experience and optimise conversion rates in their online store. They conducted analysis of international best practice for online pharmacies and completed 1,600 customer surveys on their offering. The company also ran website upgrades in tandem with the project.
Paul says the changes and improvements that Inish made have been key to the company being able to meet the current demand for their health-care products.
Responding to Covid-19 demands
Paul says: “One of the things the Online Retail Scheme helped us do was take a big overview of a lot of our processes internally. We revamped a lot of our processes to allow us to expand order fulfilment quickly. That has been really helpful because in the current environment, when order volumes really increased in a very short period of time due to Covid-19, we were able to expand our capacity quickly to keep up.
“And it’s not just processing orders. At the minute we’re buying in new products from different suppliers and we’re able to react quickly and get these products ordered, on the system and online so that they’re available to our customers. We have been able to adapt, and a big part of that was because we spent time as part of the Online Retail Scheme planning for expansion and then putting things in place to allow us to do it.”
Excellent customer service is a hallmark of Inish Pharmacy’s operations – for customers locally in Donegal, or online throughout the rest of Ireland, the UK or further afield. The company is rightly proud of its 4.9 out of 5 rating on Trustpilot. Standards are high and Inish has invested in its people to ensure they are maintained during the current crisis.
Paul says: “Our warehouse staff has gone up from five up to 13 people since the coronavirus hit. Three people have been redeployed from shops to the warehouse and we’ve had to take on five additional staff as well.”
The Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme
The Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme provides even greater incentive for traditional retailers to invest in their online offering. Companies can apply for a grant of up to €40,000 against a project spend of up to €50,000.
Stephen Hughes, Head of Consumer at Enterprise Ireland, says:
“It’s an 80 percent grant rate, which is almost unheard of for such a large level of support – it’s unprecedented. There is €2m available in the scheme, which opened on 29th April and will closes at 3pm on 27th May – all applications must be received by then.”
For now, Inish Pharmacy remains focused on providing the best service they can for all of their customers during the Covid-19 pandemic. But the company also has plans to scale up the growth they have experienced since participating in the Online Retail Scheme.
“We have had good growth and we have expanded our customer base and we want to take that up to the next level,” Paul says. “I think people’s buying habits will change as a result of the coronavirus – a lot of people will have got used to buying online more than they have ever done before.
“In 12 months’ time, I would like to think that a lot of the customers that are shopping with us for the first time now will have become regular shoppers.”
Learn how the Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme can support your retail business online growth– Apply before 27th May 2020.