How CVS’ Role in the Pandemic is Reshaping it as a Community Health Hub
In a session during the National Retail Federation's (NRF) inaugural Retail Converge event in June, Neela Montgomery, president and executive vice president, CVS Pharmacy/Retail, discussed the company’s plans to expand and adapt to a post-pandemic world. Montgomery was interviewed by Matthew Shay, president and CEO, NRF, during a keynote session of the week-long digital event. Here are several highlights from their conversation.
The Role of CVS Staff as the World Moves Into a Post-Pandemic Phase
CVS pharmacists were on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, and their relationships with their communities will continue. A pharmacist has more frequent interactions with individuals than many other medical professionals, Montgomery pointed out. She also noted that 30 percent of people delayed some kind of medical procedure through the pandemic, so now working at a fast pace will be vital to help maintain the health of the population. CVS aims to offer a variety of health services and provide convenient, affordable, accessible care.
“We're looking at legislation in a number of places to allow more of our pharmacists to be able to prescribe, and to offer more delivery,” Montgomery said. “We're convinced the role of the pharmacist is going to evolve and accelerate post-pandemic.”
Growing With the Industry
People are investing more in health and wellness, and the category is growing both online and via brick-and-mortar stores. But according to Montgomery, it's simply unaffordable for many, and CVS wants to look at ways to change that fact. The company hopes to give people access to affordable, omnichannel care through community programs as well as telemedicine.
“In retail, e-commerce has been a reality for 10 years,” explained Montgomery. “But virtual healthcare is spoken about like a new industry. As we at CVS think about our assets, we feel we can deliver an integrated care model that provides access, convenience and value to consumers. We can play a role in disrupting healthcare in a positive way.”
Forecasting the Future of Consumer Behavior
The most significant and noticeable shift we saw during the pandemic was consumers utilizing digital channels, Montgomery said. Categories that had not seen a lot of e-commerce penetration, such as groceries, were discovered and shoppers paid a premium price for services such as DoorDash and Instacart.
“2020 will go down as the year of omnichannel,” Montgomery said. “I was shocked by the demand for curbside and pickup in-store; every retailer developed those services.”
Some of those consumer habits will stick, but what’s also surprising is the return to brick-and-mortar, Montgomery said.
“Yes, digital continues to be huge, I think that will stick, but not entirely," offered Montgomery. "We’ll move back to an omni-experience and people will remember what they value about visiting a store and why. It’s up to retailers to remind them what that is."
Montgomery also said taking the best of digital and physical and combining those experiences will be the key. Retailers that blend the best of what they do across both channels will have the most success post-pandemic.
Other Changes on the Horizon
There will continue to be a large focus on health and wellness, and in a different way than pre-pandemic. There will be a demand for immunity care, a focus on sleep, active aging, thinking about health and nutrition in a more holistic way, and more, Montgomery said.
CVS will also continue to focus on its localized formats. For example, a Miami location has a bilingual staff and 1,500 popular Hispanic brands on the shelves. Retailers will need to focus on convenience alongside community to be successful, and need to tailor their assortment to be hyper-relevant, advised Montgomery.
“We have other trends like beauty, where we invested in higher end beauty stores to have an interesting mix of brands,” Montgomery continued. “We wouldn’t have that everywhere, but in specific markets it does well. Some stores offer an extra wide range of healthcare services; we really are trying to tailor the right CVS for the right community.”
The most urban stores in places such as New York City and Washington, D.C. suffered in the pandemic, but those have bounced back, Montgomery said. She called the fact exciting and promising.
Sally Holtgrieve is a senior editor at Total Retail, Women Leading Travel & Hospitality and Women in Retail Leadership Circle. She is responsible for content development, content management, content production and other tasks for the groups. Sally is from Northern Virginia and attended Christopher Newport University in Newport News. She moved to Austin, Texas in 2015 for an adventure and returned to the East Coast in 2021 with a husband, son, two cats and a dog. Sally enjoys hiking and camping, walking and eating her way through new cities, and waking up before anyone else to read and savor a cup, or four, of coffee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.