New light on consumer purchasing decisions

In a region as diverse as Europe, consumer healthcare marketers must develop strategies to successfully engage with consumers and maintain their loyalty. It is widely accepted that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot maximise a brand’s full potential, but just how big is the challenge facing marketers who wish to gain an understanding of the diverse range of attitudes, behaviours and needs that affect consumers’ purchasing decisions?

As an example of the kind of research required to get to “know your consumer”, Daccle Research, in co-operation with Nicholas Hall, commissioned a small study to sample consumer behaviour in Spain – a conservative OTC market, where medicines are available only from pharmacies – and the more liberal UK, with an extensive mass market for non-Rx healthcare products. Here, we offer a snapshot of the results and key learnings.

Methodology: Quality-controlled online poll
The study focused on two diverse product categories: cough / sore throat remedies, where the majority of brands are registered medicines, and food supplements. Over 1,200 consumers took part in the survey in July 2016 (625 in Spain and 576 in UK), and the sample included those who:

  • Are responsible for the purchase of OTC products within their household
  • Have bought a non-prescription product to relieve cough and / or throat pain in the past 12 months
  • Have bought non-prescription food supplements, like vitamins and / or minerals, in the past 12 months

The online poll, conducted on behalf of Daccle by surveying and data collection specialist SSI, blended multiple panels to achieve a diverse, representative sample that was subjected to recognised quality controls to ensure the end result can enable informed decision making.

Results

Brands vs PLs: HCP intervention play a huge part
Some interesting findings related to consumer attitudes to private labels / generics. Only 45% of Spanish consumers agreed that such products offer the same quality as brands (vs 53% in UK), while 42% agreed with the statement that brands contain higher-quality ingredients (vs only 31% in UK). This was a more important factor in consumer purchasing behavior than the standard / level of information on packaging (only 30% of Spaniards agreed that the quality of branded packaging gave them more confidence compared to generics). Crucially however, despite their reservations about product quality, 58% of Spanish respondents said they would buy PLs / generics in place of a brand if advised to do so by a pharmacist (vs 46% in UK).

This highlights the vital role played by the pharmacist in consumer purchasing behavior in Spain – and other conservative OTC markets – vs more liberal environments where consumers are more willing to buy without intervention.

Cough remedies: Self-selection has clear impact
Around 80% of consumers in both markets have bought an OTC cough / sore throat medicine in the past 12 months, highlighting a relatively high level of awareness about the availability of such products and suggesting a healthy acceptance of efficacy. The rate was lower – 66% in Spain and 74% in UK – among the older demographic (56+ years), which is likely owing to a more traditional reliance on a doctor to diagnose illness (as well as the availability of state reimbursement for prescriptions for the elderly). Average purchase frequency was around 2.5x per year in both countries (65% of Spanish respondents and 60% in UK made their most recent purchase less than 2 months before taking the survey).

When it came to how “involved” consumers felt when making their purchase, around half of consumers in each market declared themselves “very involved” (taking the time to select the most appropriate product, etc), but a significant proportion of Spanish consumers (20% vs only 9% in the UK) classified themselves as “not very involved”, highlighting the strength of pharmacist recommendations in that market.

Owing to the different pharmacy distribution models of each country, direct comparison between consumers’ preferred purchase location is not possible for the cough / sore throat category. However, the survey does provide some interesting insight in the UK. Just over 60% of consumers picked the pharmacy as the most likely place for them to buy such a product, with the remainder split between drugstores and supermarkets (only 2% most regularly shopped online). Advice was one of the main factors given as a reason, but this was still relatively low at 24%, with as much weight given to convenience (in terms of location). Price was the key determining factor for purchasing at a drugstore or supermarket, with the latter channel also popular owing to the attraction of a one-stop-shop destination (groceries and medicines).

In terms of purchasing decisions, Spanish consumers are more likely to know in advance which product they would prefer to buy rather than making up their mind at POS (51% in Spain and 43% in UK). This perhaps reflects Spanish consumers’ favorability towards brands (32% said they only buy cough brands, vs 14% in the UK). Loyalty to the same brand is not particularly high however, with only 37% of consumers buying the same brand in the previous two purchases. Loyalty to a particular brand was higher in the UK at 47%, owing especially to the strong market position of Benylin (J&J). Around 15% of UK consumers and 13% of Spanish consumers could not remember which brand they bought most recently.

Among the most important factors behind making a product choice, previous use and advice from a doctor scored highly in both countries, but there were some interesting variations. In the UK, where self-selection of OTCs is widespread, over 60% of consumers claimed that packaging information was a key choice factor, while less than 30% of Spaniards agreed. Price was another notable difference: in the UK – where there is a thriving discount retail channel and competitive drugstore market – 57% of consumers selected price as an important choice factor, vs only 33% in Spain, where consumers are more likely to buy what they are recommended by a pharmacist.

Food supplements: Large potential market remains
Only around half of consumers in both markets had bought a food supplement in the past 12 months, suggesting many are yet to embrace preventive healthcare. Some good news for the supplements industry however is that the younger demographic – up to 35 years – were the most likely to buy (61% in UK and 55% in Spain). Consumers aged 56+ years were least likely to buy (52% in UK and 44% in Spain). As a large percentage of supplements are used daily, it is not surprising that consumers recorded a higher number of average purchases per year compared to cough / sore throat remedies (3.8x per year in UK, 3.3x in Spain). More than 75% of respondents in each market claimed to have made their most recent food supplements purchase in the past 2 months.

Unlike registered medicines, food supplements are available for sale in non-pharmacy retail in Spain. However, 68% of consumers still prefer to buy supplements in pharmacies (vs only 39% in UK), with only 20% choosing a drugstore / parapharmacy (this channel took 30% in UK). Those who remain loyal to the pharmacy in Spain to buy supplements do so mainly owing to confidence / trust (32%), and pharmacist advice (20%). In the UK, the highest reason given for buying supplements from a pharmacy was the convenience of the location (22%), with the low score for advice (8%) further evidence that consumers in the country are happy to self-select. The highest motivation for UK consumers to buy supplements in a drugstore was cheap pricing, reflecting the fact that many mass market retailers offer multi-buy price deals on such products (3 for 2 is especially common).

Once again, a far greater percentage of Spanish consumers claimed to only buy brands than their counterparts in the UK (38% vs 12%), although almost 20% of consumers in both countries claimed to mainly buy PLs / generics (only 14% said this for cough / sore throat remedies). Once again, loyalty to a particular brand was not especially high – 50% of UK consumers bought the same brand on their previous two purchases, compared with 44% in Spain (18% and 9% of consumers respectively could not recall the brand they bought most recently).

Similarly to cough remedies, there were some important differences between the two countries in relation to the most important choice factors behind purchase. Previous usage, peer and HCP advice were equally important in both markets, but UK consumers are far more interested in packaging information (71% vs 45%), price discounting (62% vs 38%) and a packaging design that “makes the product look like a drug” (59% vs 39%).

Conclusion: Value of research should not be underestimated

This report highlights the considerable amount of valuable information that can be gathered through through consumer research. While this report focused on the test markets of Spain and the UK, many of the findings are relevant to other conservative / liberal regulatory environments across Europe, providing a useful regional insight into some of the key factors that affect consumer purchasing decisions. Some of the results confirmed what we thought we knew about each market – it is important to continually test assumptions to avoid complacency – but the study also brought new information and trends to light, which can be used to improve marketing stategies.

Consumer behavior can evolve quickly owing to factors such as economic trends or regulatory changes. This is especially true of a diverse region such as Europe, where the factors influencing a Spanish consumer’s purchase of a cough medicine in a pharmacy differ greatly from those of a British person buying a similar product in a supermarket. An awareness and understanding of these contrasting experiences can be the key to whether a product launch is a success or a failure.

Key learnings
• Spanish consumers are more likely to consider brands superior to PLs / generics, predominantly owing to a belief they contain better-quality ingredients
• UK consumers are more open to PLs / generics, and place a higher level of importance on price / discounting in general
• The role of the pharmacist remains vital and can play a significant factor in consumer behavior …
• … especially true in Spain, where advice is a key reason consumers give for visiting a pharmacy
• Reliance on recommendations in Spain also sees fewer consumers feeling “highly” or “moderately” involved during the buying process than in UK, citing branding / packaging as less of an incentive to buy
• In contrast, UK consumers place more importance on packaging information, brand image and price promotions, reflecting the higher incidence of self-selection
• Brand loyalty is relatively low in both markets for the categories sampled
• Only around 50% of consumers in each country had bought a food supplement in the previous 12 months (vs 80% who had bought a cough remedy), highlighting the large potential market for preventive healthcare …
• … however, younger consumers are more likely to buy, indicating that the new generation may be more open to investing in wellness products

About the Author:

Jozsi Toth is a Partner of Daccle Research in The Netherlands and Treasurer of The Open World Network.

Contact: jtoth@daccle.nl

 

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