Dis-Chem Pharmacies have been around since 1978 with linked dispensaries, family clinics, wound-care clinics and comprehensive self-medication centres. The company is also known for specialising in beauty, health and well-being and sports supplements. The chain has 153 outlets across South Africa, as well as a very successful online shop. They offer their customers over 32 000 products and the product portfolio keeps on growing.
We got in touch with Jacques Fullard, the e-commerce store manager of Dis-Chem to gain some insight into how a pharmacy tackles the complexities of managing such a mega online operation.
- What have some of the biggest challenges you have had crossing over from traditional retail to the e-commerce channel?
Product content and stock have been the biggest challenges. Content because there is a dependency on 3rd parties to supply images, copy etc. and stock because since we are predominantly brick & mortar retail business with 153 stores, stock levels changes every second.
- Being a company with so many outlets, how did you tackle the click-and-collect model?
The idea of Collection orders is convenience for our customers. We had to ensure their orders were ready for collection as quickly as possible. For this reason, these orders are processed within the store. We have personnel trained on online order fulfilment at all stores. At the end of the day these team members are the final touchpoint with our online customers and they need to ensure the final step of the online order concludes without issues. It is an ongoing thing to keep all team members trained to ensure orders are processed as quickly as possible to reduce fulfilment cost & time.
- Dis-Chem offers some of the best performing and fastest growing product categories in the world of online shopping. Would you say that South African buying behaviour mimics that of more established markets, or do you find some unique buying behaviours locally?
Good question. For the most part we mimic the behaviours of established markets albeit a few years behind. Where we are different is our trust of online payments. Many online shoppers are still very reluctant to make payments online and as such don’t complete their online orders. We introduced a Payment on Collection service some time ago to give customers who don’t want to pay online the opportunity to shop online and then pay in-store with whichever payment method works best for them i.e. cash.
- For Dis-Chem, what would you rate as being the hardest element of the customer journey to manage?
We offer a split-order feature where a customer can have part of their order delivered and collect the rest. This feature is very handy as you don’t have to place 2 orders with multiple payments or you need part of an order urgently i.e. nappies or infant formula while the balance of the order can be delivered at a later stage. In the last few months we have refined this process and we are very comfortable with fulfilment of these orders now.
- Dis-Chem has a loyalty benefit programme, how important do you consider an effective loyalty programme when it comes to online shopping behaviour?
Dis-Chem’s Loyalty Benefits programme has always been a very important consideration for us and our online customer are predominantly members of the programme. You can earn, spend, transfer and donate benefits points while logged into your online shopping profile. We also made new signups super easy for new online customers whose Online shopping profiles are automatically linked to their benefits profile when they first log in.
- Most online shops have experienced some kind of fraud attempt or have fallen victim to fraudulent transactions. In your experience, has this been a big issue for Dis-Chem and how to you tackle this issue?
We take the security of our customers and our website very seriously. I think fraudsters are out there trying almost all sites in the hope that there is an opening somewhere where they can exploit any weakness. We have been fortunate thus far but the good fortune is also due to the fact that we have always only processed fully authenticated 3D secure transactions. This is an area where you want to make the user experience of your customer easy but at the same time still provide them with great security and peace of mind.
- How big of a role does social media play in your e-commerce strategy? Does it have a bigger influence on marketing and sales, or more from a customer support perspective?
Social media does form a large part of our strategy both from a customer support and marketing & sales perspective. We have dedicated teams monitoring social media and they escalate these to the relevant stakeholders. It is certainly no easy task but fortunately there are tools that assist.
- What do you consider the next big thing in the world of e-commerce mega trends?
There are some next-level geocoding systems available that will enable couriers to deliver parcels efficiently to exact locations providing greater security for stakeholders. Imagine a customer living in an informal settlement being able to place an online order from a smartphone and providing an exact location where the parcel can be delivered to where a street address is not available.
- What is the funniest or most horrific customer query you had to deal with at Dis-Chem?
Being a retailer who has many different campaigns running all of the time, we frequently get calls or emails several days after a deal had lapsed where a customer hope we can still do the same deal. This can get rather frustrating at times for the online teams because we want to try accommodate these customers but are not always able to do so. In a recent case like this a gentleman called on a Monday and we were able to help him to still get the deal because something had gone wrong on the Sunday evening when the prices were still discounted. After being told that we will still honour the deal for him he politely thanked my colleague and ended the call saying; “Good-bye babe…Love you!”
Maybe it had something to do with our slogan “Pharmacists who care”…?
Jacques gave many interesting insights and it is abundantly clear that managing customer expectations take centre stage at Dis-Chem, especially if customers tell your staff members that they love them and start calling them babe! It’s easy to see that there are prominent themes across the Dis-Chem Omni-channel approach:
- Customer Convenience
- Customer Satisfaction
- Customer Loyalty
Regarding the challenges that Dis-Chem faces it is interesting to see that even mega online shops have the same struggles as the small ones, and that is the aggregation of content and imagery. Social media continues to keep online retailers on their toes in a world of demanding customers that have become accustomed to instant gratification, and where social media is increasingly becoming the customer support channel for consumers.
One aspect that is subtly hidden in Jacques’ responses, is that it is very important to keep on innovating. Innovation is a critical success factor for any serious e-commerce strategy. There are far too many companies that still adopt the methodology of building their online shop, but never reinvest. Companies like Dis-Chem actively look for opportunities to improve, and build innovation into their strategies.
We would like to thank Jacques and the team at Dis-Chem for taking the time to share with the Expert Ecommerce community and we wish them all the best.
Cassie van Wyk is the main author of this blog and has years of experience in the field of channel marketing and e-commerce respectively. He has a passion for writing and sharing knowledge, and does a lot of research in order to bring factual information to all the blog visitors. Feel free to reach out at any time!