The Latest Traffic Driver: Swine Flu Shots

Dec 29, 2009
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

In a bid to
boost traffic and promote their in-store clinics, many retailers are aggressively
marketing themselves as the place to go for H1N1 vaccine shots.

According to
the Wall Street Journal, Rite Aid is placing signs that read, “Protect
Yourself: H1N1 Vaccinations Are Available,” on its front doors along with
similar banners inside. Kroger is promoting its H1N1 flu shots on the cover
of its weekly ad circulars. Starting next year, Walgreen plans to advertise
vaccine shots in television spots. Others offering vaccines include Wal-Mart,
CVS Caremark and Safeway.

The government
began distributing the shots via retailers just before Christmas. Until
then, most vaccination efforts were focused on priority groups.

The Journal said
that with the vaccine becoming more widely available, stores are taking
the opportunity to publicize their enhanced health-care solutions beyond
the pharmacy. Many now have in-store clinics staffed by nurse practitioners
and physician assistants to provide basic services and advice. Kroger owns
a stake in a chain of clinics that operate in around 100 of its nearly
2,500 stores.

Stores also
see flu shots as a traffic driver in a tough market. While H1N1 infections
have been declining for several weeks, the government is running public-service
ads to boost awareness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
said last week that about one-fifth of the U.S. population has been vaccinated
and about half still want the shot. An active H1N1 vaccine program may
also lead to a bump in other flu-prevention products, such as hand sanitizer.

“We clearly
see potential opportunity” in the vaccinations, Brian Dowling, a spokesman
for grocer Safeway, told the newspaper. “The vast majority of our pharmacy
customers shop the rest of the store.”

According to
the Journal, retailers don’t appear to make much money directly
off the shots, which cost between $10 to $18. The federal government supplies
the vaccines free to stores and retailers can charge an administrative
fee no higher than the regional Medicare payment rates for seasonal-flu
vaccines. Retailers claim these fees cover the costs of shipping
and handling, as well as labor.

Questions: Is marketing H1N1 vaccine shots a smart way for retailers
to drive traffic and promote health care options? What’s the likelihood
that retail’s possibly widescale role in distributing H1N1 vaccine shots
will lift its profile as a health care solution?

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12 Comments on "The Latest Traffic Driver: Swine Flu Shots"

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Paula Rosenblum
11 years 4 months ago

Am I the only one that finds this just a bit creepy?

I know that cold and flu season usually bodes well for Chain Drug stores, and Wall Street analysts actually track the number of new cases by region as a metric of “opportunity,” but this seems to be a bit much.

Then again, I’m vaguely disturbed by the marketing of prescription drugs and the new “retailization” of caskets…so maybe I’m old-fashioned.

Still, at the end of the day, we have an obligation to do some things as a public service. Providing the flu vaccine is one of those things.

Anne Howe
11 years 4 months ago

I think using the flu shot clinics as a traffic driver does raise the perception that retail can be a viable option for health care solutions in the drug channel. I’m not so sure that same logic holds true in grocery. To me, it’s a problem with the perception of the staff administering the shot, or the care, whatever it is. Perhaps it’s unfounded, but my gut tells me the staff in the grocery store clinic is not the top of the line trustworthy health source I am seeking no matter what service I get. Convenient, yes, but convenience is not really on my decision tree for health care at the grocery store.

I’d rather see the grocers invest in a nutritionist to help me have an in-store resource for healthy food advice and shopping support. The perception of that service adding value works way better for me.

Warren Thayer
11 years 4 months ago

It’s a good service that fits in with providing a needed service, and being the consumer advocate. Why not?

Len Lewis
Len Lewis
11 years 4 months ago

If you want to do a customer service, forget the “administrative fee” and Medicare reimbursements. It’s probably costing you more to process it than you make back anyway.

But I too have a problem with supermarkets becoming health centers and I know many retailers who have shied away from this as well. Some may see benefits, but I see liabilities in this one–legal and otherwise. You want to sell health? Do it effectively with what you have on the shelves. Emergency situations aside, the last thing a supermarket should become is a surrogate doctor’s office.

Roger Saunders
11 years 4 months ago

Merchants have the consumer “in the house.” That represents an ideal time to provide an added service, introduce a portion of the store that many customers have not already experienced, enhance the productivity of the pharmacy/clinic, and capture a small profit margin (the Feds are providing the H1N1 at no charge to the retailer, hence the low price–a bit more of the dependent state?)

While late in the season, this is smart move on the part of the retailers involved.

Ryan Mathews
11 years 4 months ago

I tend to agree with Anne here. I’m not sure convenience is the right decision driver when it comes to health care. There’s also the issue of translating an event into continued behavior. Even if I did get my flu shot at the grocery store because I’m worried about a specific strain, I don’t necessarily see the supermarket as my new clinic of choice.

Marge Laney
11 years 4 months ago

Yes, I think it’s an excellent way to market to the community. It’s very difficult for the drug chains to personally connect with the individual, and making flu shots and medical screening for cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc, available, cheap, and easy is a big plus. As always, execution will make or break the experience. But, done correctly, these clinics can help make choosing where to buy your toothpaste, dental floss, etc, a more loyal decision.

David Livingston
11 years 4 months ago

As long as the retailer truly does have the shots available, I think it helps draw someone in for one shopping trip. One problem has been the shortage of shots and some retailers only have enough to last a few hours. I get my regular flu shot from Kroger–at the Cincinnati airport.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
11 years 4 months ago

Creating the association between administering a flu shot and a clinic is a stretch. If I make an appointment with my doctor’s office for a flu shot, I go to the lab, stand in line assembly style, get my shot, and leave. If I go to the grocery store pharmacy, I stand in line, get my shot and leave. At the university they set up different locations around campus to give shots. I went to one where I stood in line, got my shot and left. Do I consider all three as a useful clinic if I’m sick? No. Would I go to any of them for a standard flu shot when all dosages are the same? Sure. Giving a flu shot does not make a pharmacy, grocery store or drug store a clinic.

Jonathan Marek
11 years 4 months ago

I’ve had a great experience getting a flu shot at Safeway. It’s easy and I have to be there anyway. Given that they have thousands of square feet of pharmacy, OTC meds, health and beauty, etc, already, I really don’t see the stretch on the brand.

Gene Detroyer
11 years 4 months ago

Are Swine Flu Shots a traffic builder? Look at it in other ways. Other than schools for school-age children, what better place to get shot that takes mere minutes?

The Chain Drug outlets are more convenient than going to the doctor, in both location and frequency. The process is quicker. The likely costs for the process are considerably less.

For the retailer, let’s think of it from the brand building point of view. In an industry that over the years has likened their brands more to C-Stores than where one goes for healthcare, here is an opportunity to increase the healthcare profile of the retailer.

Shouldn’t the pharmacy take on as much healthcare service as its skills permit? Let’s leave the doctors to the complex and serious.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
11 years 4 months ago

Providing H1N1 vaccine shots is a viable marketing opportunity for merchants. As noted in the article, it fits perfectly with retailers’ other healthcare-related offerings, including convenience clinics, pharmacies, and a host of solutions, classes, advice, and other programs that tee off of various consumer health needs.

Building a trustworthy health-related offering is a smart merchant move. Indeed it’s part of a larger trend wherein we find consumers taking charge of their healthcare, finding more convenient ways to access healthcare outside the traditional healthcare industry, and seeking ways to keep their healthcare-related costs in check.

H1N1 shots are the latest merchant offering and by no means the last. For consumers, it’s all about accessing healthcare that’s more convenient and empowers them with more control. For merchants, it’s another way to establish the brand as a healthcare partner for consumers.


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