5 Steps to Maximize Your Veterinary Pharmacy Revenue in a Chewy World

veterinarian with tablet

By Stacee Santi, DVM

Refills. They’re a problem. Why are they such a problem for veterinary practices? Let’s think about the experience. Clients have traditionally had two choices when they need to request a pharmacy or food refill for their pet:

  1. They can call the practice and get put on hold while the staff checks that additional refills have been authorized and that they have the medication in stock. 
  2. They can walk into the clinic, which often prompts the receptionist to ask, “Did you call ahead to make your request?” (We use this shaming behavior to scold our clients.) Once the client gets past that emotional gauntlet and has placed their order, they wait for it to get approved, and wait some more for it to get filled. Finally, they can pay. This entire process is a hassle for both the client and the practice, leading to a negative experience all around.
Pet owners want a quick refill experience, but they currently experience a lengthy wait when they choose their veterinarian to be their pet’s pharmacy provider.

Clients are used to Amazon experiences—who doesn’t love Prime shipping? They want their pet’s prescription-ordering process to be just as speedy and efficient as shopping online. But, placing a prescription-refill request and actually picking up the medication at a veterinary practice is often a slow, tedious process, which leaves ample room for online providers like Pet Med Express and Chewy to slide in and vastly improve this experience.

So what’s a veterinary hospital to do? While you can’t compete with Chewy’s prices, you can streamline your prescription-refill process for your team and your clients, bonding them to your practice just as strongly as Amazon does to their shoppers. Here are five simple ways to turn your clients away from Chewy and back to your veterinary practice’s pharmacy.

veterinary prescription package

Step 1: Make ordering veterinary prescriptions easy

Admit it. You don’t want to call your clients half the time. You’d much rather shoot over a quick text. Well, your clients want the same. They don’t want to make a phone call, or be limited to doing business with you only by calling or walking into your hospital. 

Cater to your clients’ desires by opening up other avenues for pharmacy and food orders, rather than limiting it to phone calls and walk-ins. One of the most efficient ways to order prescriptions, products, or food is through a veterinary practice’s mobile app. Here’s what that experience can look like: 

  1. Your client quickly places their refill request through your app with just a few clicks.
  2. Your team receives the request, approves it, and fills it. 
  3. Your team sends a notification to the client, letting them know their order is ready for pickup.
veterinary pharmacy app

Step 2: Make picking up pet prescription refills easy

Babies and kids are a lot of work to wrangle in public places, right? When I see my friends running errands with screaming children in the backseat, I’d much rather have an easier alternative for picking up my pet’s medication than stopping at my veterinary hospital. Instead of unloading the baby from the carseat and heading into the hospital to wait for a prescription refill, your clients would appreciate going online for all their pet’s needs. Since so many parents are running errands with kids in the car, I’d be sure to have a pickup curb sign and allocate one of the parking spots in front of your hospital for mobile pickup. 

If clients can use your mobile app for pharmacy refills, here’s what the rest of their experience could look like:

  1. Your client arrives at your practice, and lets your team know that they’ve arrived.
  2. Your team sends the invoice directly to the client’s smartphone, and the client pays through the app.
  3. Your team brings the refill to the client’s car.

Another way to make picking up prescriptions even easier than ordering through Chewy is to ensure those refill requests are an early-morning priority for your team. How often have clients requested refills late at night, adding an urgent note that says they’re completely out of their pet’s essential medication? Rather than having a 24-hour turnaround time on prescription refills, make it a priority to fill those requests first thing in the morning, just like checking your voicemail. 

Step 3: Promote your veterinary practice’s online store

Many veterinarians have their own online store, which is fantastic! I can’t think of a single reason not to have your own store. However, many veterinarians refrain from promoting their online store because the profit margin is lower than that of purchasing onsite in the practice. The problem with this strategy is that clients will go to Pet Med Express or Chewy, and instead of having a lower profit margin on a chronic medication, the practice will get nothing. To keep profits in your practice, it is critical to promote your online store before clients have a chance to find one on their own.
online veterinary pharmacy

Step 4: “Forward-book” pet prescription refills

The same approach the veterinary industry took to forward-booking appointments in the early 2000’s can be applied to pharmacy refills. When prescribing a long-term product, discuss the refill before the client leaves—and certainly before day 59 of the 60-day prescription. Find out how your client would like to have their medication refilled, whether it’s picked up at the practice or shipped directly to their home. The client will love this concierge approach, and there will be no reason for them to start googling alternative providers, since future prescriptions are already handled.

Step 5: Automate pharmacy refills

Another perk of having your own branded online veterinary pharmacy is being able to set up autoship for chronic medications. This is such a helpful service to set up for clients, and it further strengthens your bond. 

Autoship is a “set it and forget it” situation, making it simple for clients to receive their pet’s medications on time with zero hassle or wait.

And, because people take the path of least resistance, having autoship set up for them will give them one less reason to seek alternative solutions.

In the end, it will be impossible to beat Chewy and Pet Med Express on price, but don’t forget the power of convenience and personalized service. Your clients will be drawn to your veterinary hospital because of the level of care you provide through your online pharmacy, rather than being relegated to just another order number to giant online retailers.

Dr. Stacee Santi, CEO/Founder Vet2Pet

Dr. Stacee Santi is a 1996 DVM graduate from Colorado State University and the founder of Vet2Pet, a technology startup that builds personalized custom apps for veterinary practices. With over 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, Stacee brings an “in the trenches” approach to innovation and solutions for veterinary teams. She has also served as a medical advisory consultant for NVA for 5 years, medical director for a general/ER practice in Colorado as well as current President of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. She can be reached at stacee@vet2pet.com.

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