Touchscreens, open display behind the counter and digital consultation counters: A look inside the Rathausapotheke (English: Rathaus Pharmacy) at the HUMA shopping center in St. Augustin raises the bar when it comes to digital signage. Its goal is to offer customers a special experience and amplify its consulting service.
Featuring 260 square meters of floor space, the Rathausapotheke in St. Augustin is located near the entrance of the new shopping center huma. Its owner Florian Wehrenpfennig has invested nearly one million Euros to be able to utilize the latest technologies. “If you are going to do it, do it right,“ the pharmacist decided in October 2015, when he navigated his four-decade-old pharmacy through its fourth renovation and explains, “We have automated everything we could – from digital signage elements to electronic shelf labels all the way to a fully automated warehouse.“
Two giant video walls are the showstopper of the store. One of the walls that features an open display is located behind the pharmacy counters (where restricted products are sold and consulting services are available) – a virtual shelf without touch function. It displays the available prescription medications. The shelf is connected directly to the warehouse, which in turn retrieves the products fully automatically without the need for the pharmacist to make a trip to the warehouse.
There is a touchscreen between the “real” shelves in the self-service area on the sales floor. This is where customers are able to look at products, fill their shopping carts and subsequently pick them up at the checkout armed with a receipt they print out at the touchscreen.
Consulting service is the cornerstone of the pharmacy: more time for customers
In 2012, a study conducted by the IFH (Institute of Retail Research) and commissioned by the Chambers of Pharmacists and Pharmacists Associations in North Rhine-Westphalia revealed that consumers most notably value the consulting services that pharmacies provide and would like to see even more services in the future. “Consulting service is still the core business of pharmacies,“ Wehrenpfennig is likewise convinced. At his store, the touchscreens combined with the open display function of the consultation counters perform an additional advisory function.
Oliver Müller, Managing Director of OPTIMUM-Media GmbH and in charge of the digital signage installation at the Rathausapotheke, describes the functions. “The screen at the consultation counter shows ten main indications- ranging from the respiratory system to pain all the way to the ears and skin – that can be broken down into 150 sub-indications with three clicks. This helps both the associates and the customers in making their selection.“ Wehrenpfennig adds that “this type of consulting service might take a little longer but it’s this conversation aspect that stays in someone’s mind. In our case, that’s the shopping experience.“
Thanks to new technologies, the process optimization throughout the entire store is extensive: the shelves don’t have to be loaded with products to store them. Even if the warehouse only has one particular item left in stock, it can still be illustrated in various ways. Regular refilling and resorting of shelves, dusting etc. is no longer necessary and saves time. The virtual shelves that have already been created can be used over and over again.
"The biggest investment is made in employees, with the store concept running a close second." (Florian Wehrenpfennig, Apotheker)
Virtual is faster and more personalized: the impact on the design
The virtual shelves in the open display behind the counter are created using special software. To be able to optimally show the contents in all formats, they need to be edited beforehand. “The content is provided directly by the pharmaceutical industry and is formatted in-house for the digital signage systems by a graphic designer. The pharmacist at the store is subsequently able to identify the exact product based on the national drug code, the name or manufacturer and select the desired view for the open display behind the counter,“ says Müller. The pharmacist can also choose the background and product presentation. To do this, he/she can use available product images that display the item in different quantities or layouts such as individual rows or in groups. When the image is touched, a window opens, which not only displays the package insert but also different options of infomercials and required warning and caution statements.
Not only is the choice of visual presentation important for the consultation portion, it is also an integral part of the design and thus the ambiance of the entire store. “The design of this pharmacy is very clear and works with reduced furnishings and numerous white and bright elements. Both of the giant media walls in the space are a fundamental design element because they allow the creation of different moods and scenarios, for instance, with sales promotions, products, videos and landscape images that have a strong impact at this scale. Unlike a structural wall, digital signage elements make it possible to quickly change the visual appearance,“ says architect Carl E. Palm, who created the store design. He adds, “To ensure that the design creates the desired effect, before the installation, we discuss with the pharmacist which colors match the setting and background and complement the overall image and appearance of the company.“
Investing in the future: always two steps ahead
Wehrenpfennig agrees and says, “We are not only more flexible, we can also further emotionalize the store. That’s our advantage over pure play online retailers where price is essentially the only emotion. We are not able to compete with that aspect in brick-and-mortar retail, which is why we have to invest in emotions. The biggest investment is made in employees, with the store concept running a close second.“
Digital signage expert Müller expects investments in extensive and large elements of digital signage primarily in larger pharmacies in city centers or central locations that are modern and open to change. He concedes that “smaller pharmacies are more likely to just set up a few touchscreen displays. What’s more, an open display behind the counter only makes sense if you combine it with a fully automated order picking system.“ The cost for this type of installation is substantial. Architect Palm estimates that “each screen can cost up to 5,000 Euros, while an additional automatic system runs around 100,000 Euros.“ This is why pharmacies are likely going to feature a mix of different elements. He adds that all this very much depends on the location, size and sales volume. He also believes that not all products will be digitally presented. After all, haptics is important, especially when it comes to premium products such as cosmetics.
That being said, pharmacist Wehrenpfennig is already very pleased with his concept. Customer feedback on the renovation is very positive and the new ambiance has attracted many new customers to his store. Initially, the associates had to assist some customers and explain the new functions. “That works quite well. After all, the most important part is that the people, who work here have stayed the same. I believe that if you want to make a lasting impression on customers, you can only succeed with personality. Thanks to the new technological possibilities, we most notably gained more time to dedicate to our customers.“
In addition to the optimized consulting services that are well received and appreciated by customers, he was also able to enjoy other successes. “Two of our associates applied for a job inspired by the modern configuration and design of our pharmacy.“ He adds that he will continue to keep a close eye on technological possibilities and trends in the future. He looks ahead and says, “The lines between online and offline retail continue to blur. In the long run, only those retailers and pharmacists that are able to master both aspects will stay in the game. If you are aware of this fact, you can no longer say, ‘Let’s build a traditional pharmacy in this place‘. Mind you, a beautiful old fashioned pharmacy is lovely – just like a museum. But then again, the world around it has changed.“