Amazon's health and wellness bid a forward-looking strategy

Amazon.com created a virtual health and wellness depot with the launch of its new 50+ Active and Healthy Living Store. With this online destination, Amazon will be targeting the caregiver sweet spot — that sandwich generation who are likely to simultaneously care for their baby boomer parents even as they raise their Gen Y children. 

But are consumers really shopping health online? Or, more important, are they buying health online?

The wisdom over the past few years has suggested that consumers satisfy their acute care needs with a sense of immediacy. In other words, if they've got the sniffles, it's time to drop by the retail pharmacy on the way home from work to stock up on tissues, cold and/or allergy medicine, and sanitizer. Waiting a day or two for those items to be shipped out of the warehouse just really isn't intuitive. Colds, pain, upset stomachs and diarrhea — consumers are not likely to wait for relief from their postman. 

Sales of pain relievers and cough-cold solutions that treat an acute need account for 30.3% of all OTC medicines sold through mass outlets, according to IRi data for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 27, representing $11.6 billion in sales. But vitamins, diet aids and digestives — which may represent more chronic needs for which Amazon's subscription service "Subscribe & Save" would become a differentiated convenience — account for more than 43% of all OTC medicines sold and represent $16.6 billion in sales. 

That suggests Amazon.com could be onto something, if consumers were prone to shop OTCs online. They're not, necessarily. At least not yet. According to AccentHealth VP market research, Natalie Hill, "When it comes to medical treatment, healthcare professionals remain the most trusted source for information. Of those viewers using smart devices in-store, only 16% report doing so to investigate Rxs or OTCs." According to DSN's regular feature Patient Views, which taps into AccentHealth's consumer survey capabilities, consumers using mobile devices in-store are most often in search of savings, with the majority (91%) comparing prices online or at other stores while shopping.

When it comes to medical treatment, healthcare professionals remain the most trusted source for information — 31% of AccentHealth viewers cited their healthcare professional as their source of information on OTCs. Online research isn't too far behind those health professionals, however — 20% of those surveyed researched their OTC solutions online prior to purchase. 

The caveat, of course, is the steady adoption of mobile technology tools to enhance the shopping experience. By the time Gen Y hits that target demographic of 50 years and older, the likelihood that 4-in-5 shoppers will research OTCs online before they purchase, as opposed to the 1-in-5 today, is pretty high. 

That not only suggests Amazon.com is expanding in this direction with an eye to the future, but also suggests that more traditional brick-and-click retailers are going to have to make omnichannel retailing a core focus if they're going to maintain any kind of competitive offering.  

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