Pharmacies may be entitled to a €2,500 grant to create a new website or support online marketing campaigns via the Local Enterprise Office Trading Online Voucher, writes Colm Baker MPSI

The Local Enterprise Office Trading Online Voucher offers companies with less than 10 employees and a turnover of less than €2 million financial assistance to help them trade online. 

Business owners are increasingly looking to enhance their online presence and start selling products online in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has rapidly accelerated the shift to online shopping across all industries. 

Additional revenue is not the only reason to build an eCommerce store for your pharmacy

Although many pharmacy owners would have disregarded the need to sell online previously, they may risk losing existing customers if they do not have an online store. 

It may not be a massive driver of profit for your pharmacy but giving customers the ability to shop online as required enhances your offering, the customer experience and provides a barrier to entry for potential competitors. 

If you do not have an online store, existing customers may shop online with other pharmacies, possibly other local pharmacies. That could be the start of a relationship that culminates in them moving their prescriptions and other existing retail business to that pharmacy because of the added convenience. 

Whether you see an eCommerce store as a potential revenue driver (which it can be) or simply a way to secure your local retail business, there has never been a better time to start selling online. 

Enhanced funding and new application criteria in response to Coronavirus

Since the coronavirus pandemic, the Local Enterprise Office has changed the criteria for TOV approval and is now even allowing companies who have previously received the TOV to apply for a second grant. 

You can now also apply solely for digital marketing projects that do not involve website development. For example, if you have an existing eCommerce store, you can cover the costs of having agencies such as The Social Pharmacist create, implement and manage your digital marketing strategies to increase sales online. 

The biggest change since the pandemic has been the change from 50 per cent co-funding to the new level of 90 per cent. Previously, to avail of the maximum voucher of €2,500, you needed to commission work for a minimum of €5,000 plus VAT. The recent change now means that you can receive €2,500 for projects costing from only €2,777 plus VAT.

What are the main benefits of having an eCommerce store?

Over the last decade, business owners have continually been urged to grow their online presence and start selling online. However, many pharmacies have resisted investing in developing an eCommerce store for a wide range of reasons, despite the potential benefits. 

Investing in developing an eCommerce store can:

• Create an additional revenue stream for your business.

• Give you the ability to acquire customers nationwide.

• Reduce your dependency on State fees and dispensary items.

• Enhance your offering for your local community.

• Reduce your risk of losing customers to competitors.

But still, many pharmacies in Ireland do not even have a website, let alone a website with eCommerce capabilities. 

Why have many pharmacy owners resisted the move into eCommerce?

There is a wide array of reasons why pharmacy owners have not invested in eCommerce to date and many of them are well placed. Many pharmacies lack the time, knowledge and resources to create and manage eCommerce stores. Some pharmacy owners are unsure about the potential profitability and scalability of an online pharmacy store. Other pharmacy owners are also concerned that their online offering may impact their existing retail businesses. 

However, shopping online for healthcare products and medication will become commonplace and your customers will expect that you have an online store, or they will shop online with your competitors when they need to. 

A more sensible, less risky approach than totally disregarding or conversely, massively investing in eCommerce is to get an online store developed by an agency using the TOV. From there, let your existing retail customers know that you now have an online store if they ever need it. Then, you can begin advertising your online store at low cost within the local communities of your retail locations, where you will have considerable brand awareness. 

By this stage, you will have made a relatively low investment, have an eCommerce store for your customers, and know whether you want to invest more seriously in digital marketing campaigns to attract new customers nationwide and scale your revenue. If not, then you can maintain your eCommerce store at a low cost to serve mainly as an adjunct for your retail customers.  

If you want to know more about applying for the Trading Online Voucher, developing a website or digital marketing in general, feel free to get in touch with The Social Pharmacist