June 19, 2007, 12:00 AM

Forrester sees no cure for sickly online drug sales

Consumers want their medications quickly, and prefer the convenience of going to the drug store where they can also pick up other items, says a Forrester Research analyst. He says drug store chains will use web sites mainly to drive traffic to stores.

Only one in 10 of consumers who take prescriptions at least weekly buy those drugs online, and only 6% of the overall population, according to a new report from research and consulting firm Forrester Research. Analyst Carlton Doty says online prescription sales will never be a big business, and that drug store chains will use their web sites mainly to build brand loyalty and drive customers into their stores.

“For the average consumer the convenience of purchasing drugs online doesn’t necessarily outweigh the convenience of going to your local pharmacy where one can also pick up other odds and ends for the home,” Doty says.

He says the main obstacle to purchasing medications online is that consumers most often need the drugs immediately. However, the survey also found that 27% of those who take prescription drugs regularly have used mail-order services, which also take days to deliver the medications.

Why the preference for mail order versus online? “We didn’t ask them their reasoning,” Doty says of the 2006 survey of 2,830 consumers. “But my take on this is that mail order has been longer, and in many cases it’s easier to just pick up the phone and call it in, especially for seniors who are less likely to shop online than younger generations.”

Only 3% of frequent prescription takers compare prescription drug prices online, although 63% said they like to shop around before making a purchase, the survey found. And only 9% felt drug-specific web sites were useful in helping them decide what medications to discuss with their doctors, while 68% considered their doctors up to date on medical treatments and medications.

The average age of frequent prescription takers who buy online was 49.2 years, 75% had at least some college and their mean household income was $72,800. 78% of them had commercial insurance, as opposed to government plans like Medicaid.

Doty contends that the convenience factor will prevent prescription sales from ever being a big business online. He says major pharmacy chains will use their web sites mainly to build brand loyalty, and will woo consumers with loyalty cards, points and coupons, with the aim of increasing traffic to their stores.

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