Online pharmacies have surged in popularity in other countries, but Australia has long relied on the advice of a local chemist and the personal touch. What does it take to create that trust and personal connection online?
It’s no surprise that global online shopping spending reached record highs throughout the early days of COVID-19.
When consumers stopped leaving the house, traditional bricks-and-mortar stores were faced with significant pressure to accelerate their online migration in hopes to stay afloat.
But while Australians were filling their carts with biscuits and blankets, a newer type of online shopping was beginning to take over in the United Kingdom: online dispensaries.
The UK’s National Health Service reported that these dispensaries, also known as online pharmacies, quadrupled from 2016 to 2021, with more than 52 million items being dispensed in 2021 alone.
And while online pharmacies in Australia are still trying to find where they fit, local companies are confident the demand is growing.
The challenge for online distributors in Australia
Unlike the American drug store on every corner or the UK’s model of large chain-dominated pharmacies and in-supermarket dispensaries, Australia has a relatively tight pharmaceutical market.
Even with the emergence of bigger chains, there’s a sense of community positioning, regular pharmacists who know your name, an expert ready to answer your questions and, importantly, a safe transaction of goods.
Research by the Pharmacy Guild shows about two-thirds of customers go to the same pharmacy every time, showing a strong degree of loyalty.
*Statistics taken from Community Pharmacy 2025 by The Pharmacy Guild of Australia
But even pharmacists agree that the pressure to expand digitally is growing.
A bricks and mortar pharmacy can fail to match the convenience, efficiency and privacy demanded by customers, and offered by new entrants into the online pharmacy landscape.
Consumers who don’t want or simply can’t leave the house can access everything they need at the click of a button, sometimes without needing to book an appointment with their GP.
Online pharmacies also remove the stigma associated with purchasing medications to address embarrassing ailments, such as male pattern baldness or sexual dysfunction.
But the Australian Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration has set some stern warnings for consumers looking to buy medicine online, strongly suggesting they spend time researching and understanding the online distributor they are buying from.
For this reason, the number one priority in building trust among consumers needs to be a positive customer experience.
For a consumer to use an online pharmacy, they are trusting online services with private health information – they need to know their information is in safe hands.
Every step of the customer journey must be carefully considered, including instilling the confidence that if a customer needs support, it is easily accessible.
Ultimately, what the industry needs is to maintain the in-depth customer relationships of a traditional community pharmacy.
Building a positive customer experience online
Online stores have many advantages when it comes to customer experience: it’s easier to maintain stock, personalise the customer journey and they can be made accessible 24/7.
But nothing beats the human-to-human relationship when customers need help.
The customer’s experience needs to be intuitive, easily knowing how to escalate issues when support is needed – from self-help to live chat or person-to-person.
A customer’s relationship with technology can also make a big difference to their overall experience. Offering one type of support or one way to connect with customers may be difficult for a wider demographic group that an online pharmacy likely has, as its customers’ technology savviness can vary widely.
Given the complexities online pharmacies may face, the mix between technological and human interactions will likely be needed for a long time.
“To replicate or replace the in-person experience online or through digital channels, you need to put the customer perspective at the heart of the entire engagement and transaction,” says Blaine Slater, Chief Growth Officer at TSA Group.
“You need to consider customer experience from the first moment of engagement, recognising that for online sales of medical products and over-the-counter medications, the buyer can require expert support, in assessing whether the product is right for them, how they can evaluate different options, and where they can turn to if they need more information.”
“It’s a very different prospect to ordinary online shopping, so you need expert customer experience strategic planning from the start.”
A second challenge is the reliability of the platform and its ability to replicate a personal, secure interaction between customer and pharmacy.
Consumers can be wary of trusting online services with private health information: they need to know their information is in safe hands.
But there are ways to gain trust with consumers. Here are our top tips:
- Refer to previous interactions with the customer to demonstrate it is the same brand, ensuring a seamless experience.
- Give the customer the power to make a choice and don’t apply pressure so they feel comfortable.
- Ensure your technology is fluent so it sounds more like a person.
- Understand your customers’ demographics and take the time to find out their levels of comfort with technology so you can provide a more tailored experience.
- Give them more control through technology – for example, giving them an in-app experience or enabling them to change their details in the system.
Again, careful design of how the brand interacts with the customer must be carefully considered, including instilling the confidence that if a customer needs support, it is easily accessible.
That way an online pharmacy can build on the successful relationship it has with its customers, rather than risk eroding high levels of customer trust by diversifying its platforms.
So will online pharmacies become a driving force in Australia?
It seems inevitable — but success will rely on having an efficient and supportive customer experience throughout the customer journey.
A customer care provider who dedicates time and energy into finding the right solutions for consumers will build trusting relationships.
How TSA Group can help
TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX consultancy and services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.
TSA Group has partnered with industry leading technology providers to offer a variety of solutions to solve any customer challenge. Our Next-Gen CX Platform and bespoke solutions can support an industry’s specific needs when it comes to interactions with customers, all while keeping customers’ data secure.