Growing up, I remember attending bonfire night celebrations wrapped up warmly in a winter coat, scarf and hat, because it used to be so bitterly cold come early November. By the time winter had officially arrived, you really knew about it. Today, the seasons are definitely changing, and the weather is becoming more unpredictable each year, which, in turn, is affecting when people get ill, how long for and how they choose to treat themselves.
Seasonality is one of the biggest drivers of OTC sales, and although recent periods of warmer weather have benefited sales in the allergy category, sales within the bigger cough, cold and sore throat category were down 0.6 per cent year on year in July 2017.
Now more than ever, consumers are driven by lifestyle trends when it comes to purchasing habits, and this includes medicines. People are increasingly looking for a wide range of formats – be it tablets or powders, different formulations, fast or slow modes of action, depending on their symptoms – and different medicines for both day and night.
Cough is one of the areas where pharmacy staff can advise and help customers who may be confused by their symptoms. If a customer comes in displaying symptoms, pharmacy staff will want to ask some basic questions so they can recommend the most appropriate treatment. Is their cough dry or chesty? Do they smoke or have they recently quit? Do they have symptoms such as a runny nose or aches and pains, which may mean they could also need a decongestant or pain relief product?
Remind customers that a cough can typically last up to three weeks, so they don’t need to rush to book a GP appointment if symptoms haven’t cleared up within three days.
Involvement in national campaigns, such as Stay Well This Winter, can provide pharmacy staff and customers with health advice on a range of common winter illnesses. Seventy-seven per cent of pharmacists said the campaign encouraged more people to ask for advice and information about what to do when they have a winter illness.
PAGB member companies will also be supporting the campaign by using the Stay Well This Winter logo on relevant cough, cold and sore throat product advertising. If the weather does start to turn cold and frosty, think about your most vulnerable customers. Build relationships with them – and if you have a means to contact them, get in touch to check they are safe and well and whether they need prescriptions or other medicines delivered to them.
We’ve already been warned that flu rates are going to be high this year, so be prepared, get stocked up and get ready to arm people with all they need to stay well this winter.
This column first appeared in P3 magazine.