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  • GARY McCARTNEY

The 5 C's Of Pharmacy Design


Photo: Molecure Pharmacy in Taiwan by Waterform Design

A pharmacy is a unique mix. It’s where medicine meets retail. Where health advice meets hair gel. Where flu shots meet ear piercing. Where valium meets sun hats. How do you design a customer journey around all of that?


There are several different types of pharmacy- shopping mall, community pharmacy, discount warehouses, and no one size fits all. But the principles are simple. Here’s five.

CUSTOMER: Pharmacists typically work behind the counter at the back of the shop, and they tend to think from the dispensary counter outwards. But that’s not how a customer experiences the store. They’re coming in from the outside. You really need to look at the environment from a customer’s point of view. If they are coming in for a prescription don’t block their path with stacks of discount toilet paper. Let them get to what they need quickly and then they’ll relax and we can have meaningful conversations. Every decision should be made with the customer first.

CONVENIENCE: There is a future where there is 24 hour robotic dispensing from the shopfront using facial recognition, but it’s not here yet. We’re still obliged to walk into a pharmacy with a piece of paper, hand it in and wait. For most customers a visit to the pharmacy is a chore. We need to make their journey as smooth and painless as possible. A clear and obvious path to the prescription counter comes first. Once that need’s been met they’re receptive to other offers.


Or maybe they don’t need to come in at all. One idea we’ve seen in Italian pharmacies is a vending machine embedded into the shopfront, where you can purchase everyday items like band-aids, aspirins and condoms 24 hours a day without entering the store. What a great space and time saver. Not to mention a low-touch alternative in this day and age.


If we start to think of a pharmacy as a convenience store we can bring efficiency to a customer’s shopping mission and still engage them with discretionary retail.


Everything else here follows on from this thought.

CLARITY is essential. We always say that a customer should be able to find what they want from the front door. Food shoppers might put up with some wandering around a store in search of something but a pharmacy shopper (and it can be the same person) will not. That means clear and legible signage for all categories and sub categories and a clear route through the shop to get there. It should be clear if you can touch something or not. It should be clear where you can engage with the pharmacist or sales team. It should be clear where you pay and exit.

COMFORT: Visual comfort comes first. Customers expect hygienic but not clinical. Clinical is cold, over-lit and uncomfortable. At the other end of the scale, a cluttered, dimly lit second hand bookshop of an environment complete with track-worn carpet is wrong. We’ve seen both extremes and the answer lies in between (but closer to the former.)


It’s a delicate balance between materials, detailing and lighting. We need good task lighting for the pharmacists to work and for customers to be able to read all that annoyingly small text on packaging. But we also need to make customers look and feel good, and to use spotlighting to enhance the merchandise we want to sell to them.


Comfort also means space, now more than ever. Customers are uncomfortable having to walk up and down aisles to try to find something and even more uncomfortable brushing past other customers to do it. And, yes, we should have comfortable chairs if we expect customers to wait for anything. But please- ones that are comfortable for everyone.

CONSULTATION: The real value add in a pharmacy is the consultative aspect- and this will only increase as pharmacies take on more and more of the routine work usually done by GPs- simple health checks, flu vaccinations, and, in the future, COVID vaccinations. What this doesn’t mean is under-used consulting rooms that take up space and become dumping grounds. Not all consultations require privacy, just a quieter corner to retreat into. By mindful planning we can create these areas to be Clear, Convenient and Comfortable.

As Steve Jobs used to say, Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.


There are tons of pharmacies on Pinterest. You can pick any look and feel that you like. How it works is another question. We’re here to help.

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