• NAVC Brands

6 Ways to Compete With Online Pharmacies

Do you think clients always choose the least expensive option for pet medications? Think again. Convenience and service win in the race to fill prescriptions.

6 Ways to Compete With Online Pharmacies
Make the filling of prescriptions requested overnight an early priority each day, just like checking your email and voicemail.

Soon after Jamee DeSimone went to work nearly 10 years ago as a client service representative at Shaffer Animal Hospital, she recommended using social media rather than word of mouth to inform pet owners about the clinic’s offerings. Eventually, she pushed the four-doctor practice in Oviedo, Florida, to leverage technology to engage clients and make it easier for pet owners to do business.

Today, DeSimone is the practice manager, and her recommendations have paid off in big ways. The clinic has gone from no social media presence to an engaged following on Facebook and Instagram. The technology platform includes a branded hospital app that clients download and use to:

  • Request appointments and prescription refills.
  • Chat and exchange photos and videos with the hospital team.
  • Receive reminders.

The prescription refill feature alone has dramatically improved the hospital’s finances. During the first quarter of 2021, the Shaffer team processed nearly 1,050 refill requests through the app. Over the past year, the per-client revenue in Shaffer’s online pharmacy was $367.

The numbers are impressive, especially in a world where the unbeatable prices of online pharmacies make many practice owners and managers wonder how they can compete. However, many pet owners look for convenience, not necessarily the lowest price, when filling prescriptions.

Here are six ways to get your clients to purchase their pets’ medications from you rather than your online competitors.

1. Make It Easy

Consumers want convenience. Gone are the days when customers would be loyal to a company simply because they’d done business together for a long time. If pet owners have to call to request a prescription refill, for example, you likely will lose them eventually to an option that allows online ordering within a few clicks.

Embrace technology to make requesting prescriptions convenient and straightforward. For instance, Shaffer Animal Hospital’s app (through Vet2Pet) allows clients to request a refill and choose to pick it up at the clinic or have it shipped to their home (through Vetsource). The pet owner can pay for the refill through the app, and if they choose to pick up the prescription, they can send a chat message when they arrive and have the medication delivered to their vehicle.

“Our app has been a game changer,” DeSimone said. “It has completely revolutionized the way we do things.”

Despite a slightly lower profit margin when clients order through the online store, Shaffer’s leaders understand the importance of keeping the option available to pet owners who really want it. Better to keep some profit in the hospital from those clients, they say, than lose it all to a more convenient online provider.

2. Make It Fast

Today, consumers can open the Amazon app on their smartphone, find what they want, click once to buy and have the items delivered to their front door in less than 24 hours. If you’re telling your clients that the turnaround time on a prescription refill is 24 to 48 hours, you’re going to lose them.

“Our team usually has a prescription ready within a couple of hours of receiving the request,” DeSimone said.

Make the filling of prescriptions requested overnight an early priority each day, just like checking your email and voicemail.

3. Make It Rewarding

Loyalty programs are commonplace in other industries. Why not reward clients who buy their pets’ medications from you?

“One of the biggest things that keep clients coming in and purchasing medication off our shelf is our loyalty program,” DeSimone said. “They get loyalty points — we call them paw prints — when they spend a certain amount on an invoice. Clients love it. They always want to round up by purchasing some heartworm preventive or a bag of treats so they can earn another paw print.”

4. Make It Clear

Consistent, clear messaging is critical. At Shaffer Animal Hospital, everyone — from client service representatives to veterinary nurses and doctors — understands the differences between purchasing a prescription through the practice and a commercial pharmacy. In addition, they know how to communicate the differences to clients.

DeSimone’s team sends consistent messages about the hospital’s app and online store to new and existing clients via mail, email, puppy/kitten kits, social media, in-practice marketing materials, and discussions during appointments and phone calls. The efforts have paid off in these ways:

  • 98% of active clients downloaded the hospital app.
  • 32% engaged with the practice through the app in the previous 30 days.
  • 52% who engaged with Shaffer completed an action, like requesting a prescription refill, in the previous 30 days.

5. Make It Efficient

Providing exceptional client service — like refilling prescriptions within a few hours — doesn’t have to leave your team members feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Rather than relying on someone who has a few minutes of downtime (and really, who has downtime these days?) designate a team member to manage and coordinate pharmacy requests so that orders are handled quickly and accurately.

Recently, one of Shaffer Animal Hospital’s CSRs had to move. DeSimone didn’t want to let her go.

“She was great, and our team had become so busy with appointment and prescription requests through the app, so I offered her a full-time remote position,” DeSimone said. “She works from home and remotes into our PIMS Monday through Friday, handling our app notifications, appointment and pharmacy requests, emails, follow-up calls, appointment confirmations, and other tasks. It has alleviated so much stress for the front-desk team that our clients no longer have to wait on hold, and we got to keep a great employee.”

6. Make It Automatic

When prescribing long-term medications  for chronic conditions, speak with your clients about their refill preferences before they check out. Do they want to pick up refills at the practice or have them shipped to their home? You can flag the client’s account so that a team member follows up on a refill a few days before it is needed. If you operate an online pharmacy, set up the client’s account so that refills are automatically shipped at a particular interval, creating a no-hassle solution for the client and your team.

No one wants to be just another number. Your clients would rather do business with you, but they want simplicity and convenience, too. When you remove barriers and make buying medications from your practice the path of least resistance, your clients will choose you every time.

Sarah Rumple is an award-winning journalist who owns Rumpus Writing and Editing, a veterinary copywriting agency based in Denver. She always buys her pet’s prescriptions directly from her veterinarian. Contact her at rumpuswriting.com.


The prices at the big-box online pharmacies can’t be beaten, and that’s OK. But you can beat them with exceptional service. If you’re competitive and transparent in your prices, and you offer an easy experience with quick turnaround times and loyalty rewards, the option to pick up the medication or have it delivered will be a no-brainer for clients.