The UK consumer healthcare market was worth £2.6 billion in 2020. Like so many business sectors, it saw a drop in turnover during a year of unprecedented challenges, although at just over four percent, the impact was not as harsh as that experienced by other industries. Still, it is vital to understand how changing consumer attitudes and behaviours have driven this change, and this is where OTC healthcare market research comes into its own.
Lockdown peaks and troughs
At first glance, the dip in sales might appear surprising. After all, if any sector is going to thrive during a pandemic, it will surely be healthcare. Initially, as the UK moved inexorably towards lockdown, that seemed to be what would happen. Consumers took on board the government mantra of “stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives,” by stocking up on essentials, and adding products like sanitisers and facemasks to their regular shopping lists. Indeed, sales in March were more than double those of the same month of the previous year.
So what happened? Like most peaks, this one was followed by a trough. It was not so dramatic, but it was sustained for the rest of the year. Part of that was down to retailers implementing measures that were a reaction to what had come before instead of understanding the evolving market conditions. For example, maximum limits were placed on purchases and multibuy promotion were placed on pause – so instead of encouraging those consumers who had not panic-bought in March to buy more, they were actually discouraged from doing so.
Changing buying habits
The events of 2020 provide an insight into why it is so important for businesses in the OTC healthcare sector to understand both the market and the consumers who occupy it.
The pandemic might be seen as a “black swan” event, but the clues were there to predict what its impact would be on consumer behaviour.
For example, the shift towards online shopping for OTC healthcare products is a pattern that was already well underway before anybody had heard of lockdowns and social distancing. It was inevitable that this would accelerate in 2020 across all retail sectors, but especially for those buying medicines and healthcare products.
That’s logic that any business manager can follow, but where the market research expertise adds value is that it can provide insights into how buyer behaviour changes in that eCommerce setting. To give two simple examples, people tend to purchase the same things when buying online and are less likely to be distracted by impulse purchases. But they are more likely to identify and take advantage of multi-buy promotions.
Looking to the future
There has been plenty of talk about a “new normal” emerging over the latter part of 2021 and 2022. Understanding its shape and nature is vital if OTC healthcare providers are to thrive. By making effective use of market research insights, they can mould their strategies to the evolving commercial environment, while their competitors are still reacting to what has gone before.