Ever asked for something in a shop and been told "we don't stock it because there's not enough demand"? To a consumer it’s just a nuisance. For a retailer, it’s a loss of business. A consumer can't buy what isn't there, but if they decide to look elsewhere they may never return. Unfortunately, accounts systems only record sales that are made. Unmet demand is lost business.
The simplest way to record unmet demand is to log every instance a customer asks for something you don’t have. A month's worth of data might show one or two significant areas of demand. If three people actually ask for something, it’s likely that at least as many again have looked round and either been too embarrassed or not had enough time to ask.
Better still, ask staff to record what action they took, as well as the query itself. Could the pharmacy order in items which are not economic to stock in bulk? Can it refer customers to a friendly rival? A customer who has been referred on, or who has had something ordered specially, will always remember the service given - and probably come back.
Don't forget that you may have the right product, but the wrong price. If the log shows that customers refused to buy because the product was too expensive, it’s time to start scouring suppliers for a cheaper source, or even cut margins. You might have room to stock two products - a basic and a more expensive version.
It’s often said that the customer is king, but the reality is that the non-customer is, because there will always be more people who walk past than come in the door. Those customers represent a demand not met.
Most marketing is directed towards finding out about customers who already buy from a business. But how can a pharmacy find out about those that haven't yet become a customer?
You could look at your customers to try to spot the missing people and groups. Is the pharmacy mainly serving one segment of the local population? What is the spread of the generations that buy? Could you run a pensioner discount day? Do you miss commuters because your hours are too short? Once the missing people have been found, you can take action.
Remember the fourth P: product, price, people and place. You may think that in a pharmacy, place is obvious. But some customers will go out of their way to find what they want. Others will take one look, then walk out if they can’t immediately see what they want, when the product was in stock. Make sure that quick purchase goods are accessible and visible – it’s what supermarkets do when they put sandwiches and drinks close to the door. By knowing what some customers shoot in and out for, a pharmacy could do the same.
One final point. Sometimes there’s no sale even when the customer has found the product in the right place. As with every retailer, pharmacy staff should be ready to help - a queue for the till or chatting shop assistants… customers will get fed up and will leave.
Unmet demand is a source of profitable business. A customer asking for something is a potential source of revenue. Don’t ignore it.