Nonfoods Talk: A shot in the arm

Walmart is instituting a broad vaccination program that will gain consumer attention and build sales and profits.

Remember the good old days of the 1990s? Back then all a retailer had to do to make a statement in the health care category was to offer a manned pharmacy that was open seven days a week and maybe 16 hours a day.

Today, that is so pedestrian that more people talk about the stores that do not have a manned pharmacy—now normally located in prime real estate near the front of the store and surrounded by a host of products and services—than the stores that do have a pharmacy operation.

It is the year 2012 and that means pushing the envelope a bit further to catch consumers’ attention across the board. And the battle for health care sales between the drugstores, supermarkets and mass retailers such as Walmart and Target seems to be just heating up as each seeks to gain more market share in this very profitable and visible section.

Now, Walmart is raising the ante. This summer the chain announced that it is offering vaccinations for infectious diseases well beyond the standard shots for the flu and pneumonia. The Bentonville, Ark.-based super chain said it will offer 10 immunizations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including shots for shingles, meningitis, hepatitis and the human papillomavirus (HPV) in about 2,700 domestic stores.

According to information from the company, the vaccinations will be available at pop-up kiosks at the front of company stores. They will be administered under a contract with Mollen Immunization Clinics, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company that has been dispensing flu shots at Walmart for several years.

Industry officials say that Walmart is looking to achieve two major goals with this new campaign. The first is to develop more revenue sources by expanding its health care business. The second—with its collective eye trained squarely on the three national drugstore chains—is to get more consumers to think of Walmart as the go-to-location for all of their HBC needs. In other words, see goal No. 1.

From this angle, it is a strategy that is going to work as long as the chain is committed to promoting these services and making sure they are administered in a comfortable and secure location. Consumers continue to look for convenient locations to purchase affordable health care products, from shots to prescription drugs to traditional health care items. Walmart has managed to fit the bill across the board and this latest program is certain to get more consumers excited about visiting a Walmart store and purchasing these services or items.

To be totally clear, Walmart also needs to implement these types of programs to maintain its sales and profit growth. Thanks in part to the growth of digital marketing and changing consumer shopping patterns, retailers can no longer expect to survive without offering their shoppers a unique experience in-store.

So why are other grocery retailers not initiating similar programs? Yes, Walmart has the benefit of economies of scale on its side, not to mention plenty of room in most of its store to devote room for administering the shots. But this should not prevent other supermarket chains from getting involved in programs that offer their shoppers other health care benefits, perhaps including preventative shots for a broad range of ailments.

The key is a willingness to get involved in these types of programs. That needs to be followed up by developing the right go-to-market strategy, including in-store locations, having the right professional help and backing it all up with the right type of advertising.
But remember, even as more retailers institute this type of programs, chains such as Walmart will be looking for the next big thing to give their sales a shot in the arm. Can other retailers beat the chain to the punch? 

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