COVID-19: Pharmacy playbook

How to make your pharmacy website work hard for you during COVID-19

With a global pandemic underway our pharmacies have a key role to play so we’ve prepared a playbook to help pharmacies make the most of their web presence to serve their customers and their community.  By talking to pharmacy owners over the last couple days we’ve gathered some practical tips which can help to keep your team and customers safe when they do come to your pharmacy.

Update Facebook AND your Website — don’t leave people wondering!

Some businesses are communicating regularly with their Facebook followers about how they’re adapting to business in a new world, but most are forgetting to also post that information on their website’s homepage.

Adding a notice to your homepage about COVID-19 is as simple as adding a new stack right near the top of the page, adding a heading and then a paragraph of information. Watch our quick video on how to create a Covid-19 Stack on your website.

Your website visitors want to know:

  • Are you still open?
  • How can I get my prescription?
  • Preferred way to contact you?
  • Can I still purchase other products from your store and how?
  • What is your policy if I'm showing symptoms of COVID-19?
  • If you’re operating, what precautions are you taking to protect staff and guests?

Add a new page to your site that details your COVID-19 Policy

It might be useful to create a new page on your website to outline your COVID-19 Policy in more detail. Once you've created this page, add a link on your COVID-19 notice on your homepage to this new page.

Below is an example from Nature and Nosh, who've created a new page that explains their COVID-19 policy.

Keep your clients updated by Email

For Rocketspark clients it’s super easy to connect your website with Mailchimp's email marketing software. Once you've linked your Mailchimp account with your Rocketspark website, you're able to invite your website visitors to sign up to your newsletter to communicate directly with your community en masse. See how to link your Mailchimp account with your Rocketspark here.

Reducing the risks to your business

You've probably already considered rostering your team into a smaller size, so that if one member does become sick your entire team is not impacted at once. (quarantined!). 

It's also a good idea to reduce customer interactions by looking for ways to avoid any potential COVID-19 customers from inadvertently infecting your stores products and team. We have seen some pharmacies move their counters near the front door and block people from entering the entire store right through to a hole in the wall approach. Others have taken their business completely online.

One of our clients, Fiasco who have in the past (pre-COVID-19) manufactured road cases for band and event producers have had to start fresh.  Their customer base, in their words is “toast” right now and orders have stopped so they’ve pivoted the business to making innovative safety screens for Pharmacies.  One of the founders at Fiasco has family who owns Sanders Pharmacy in Te Awamutu so their team has had a great test-case to develop their solution for.

Avoid the tidal wave

Keeping up regular Facebook posts is important and shows you are communicating with your customer base and community. Many people are dependent on regular prescriptions and may be panic buying and wanting all their prescriptions at once creating extra pressure on you. Through clear communication you can help reduce the panic buying.

Keep regular communication with your customers through social media and your website. Assert confidence that you are staying open and have stock levels to avoid any panic buying.

Embedding a social media feed onto your website can also be a great way to let anyone who visits your website see your latest posts.

Taking things online, the alternative way

Moving your sales online can be a great way to reduce exposure to your staff, we've been investigating a range of ways this can be done effectively even if you don't have all your products setup in an online store already. You can still achieve this through Live Chat consultations and emailing invoices amongst other things.

The reality check here is that getting all your products online is going to be time consuming, quality photos need to be taken/edited or sourced from suppliers. Product descriptions need to be written. Stock levels need to be synced to avoid overselling. If you are already under pressure and don't have an ecommerce option in place the following approaches could be of interest.

Live Chat Consultation & Chat-Commerce

Live chat can be a great way to channel customer enquiries in a scalable way. 

Once you have engaged a conversation through chat, recommend and sell products directly to your customers right within the chat.


  • A customer can engage your staff via live chat to ask any questions about their ailments, prescriptions etc.
  • Your staff can respond with product suggestions via chat.
  • We'd recommend your live chat availability hours are clearly communicated on your website/social media pages and one of your team members is dedicated to responding to the chats in a timely manner.
  • It is likely that the conversation can be dealt with more effectively via phone call or video call. If things are getting tricky move the chat to a call. Face to face video calls are the best way to communicate and demonstrate products.
  • For customers needing help outside of normal business hours, provide a book-a-call consultation slot. We like using Calendly.
  • Do chat-commerce suggest which products to purchase and email an invoice for credit card payment. Once the payment is confirmed arrange pickup or courier.
  • Don't forget the elderly, some of your customer base won't be tech savvy. And will still want to dial the copper wires or visit your store.

First things first, let's get the chat up and running!

There are a multitude of chat options out there, we've narrowed down two popular options to consider.

Facebook messenger chat

If you have a business page on Facebook you most likely already have Facebook messenger available on your Facebook page.

This option allows you to chat to any of your customers, but they need to be members of Facebook and logged in to message you. There is also a Messenger portal at https://business.facebook.com/ where you can manage all the incoming chats and see who needs to be responded to. Learn more about Facebook options here.

There isn't an easy way to take these conversations to a voice or video call without exchanging details. However another plus is the ability to embed Facebook chat onto your website.  

  • A familiar interface for anyone using Facebook.
  • Quickly add your team as page admins to respond to customers.
  • Automated responses for Contact information, FAQs, Location, Open Hours automatically in a chat.
  • No cost.
  • Your customers need to be Facebook members to talk to you.
  • No plugin options to add extra functionality.


LiveChatInc Is a more powerful solution and traditional website chat software where anyone can start a conversation (no logins required). With a large marketplace of add-ons you can easily put together a powerful solution for consultation, auto-responding, converting to video calls and doing chat-commerce.

Some add-ons we have played with include Google Hangouts to convert the chat into a video call, without your customer having to download any software.  The Calendly add-on easily lets your customers book a time to have a consultation. Their ChatBot add-on can be used to automate the responses to common questions your customers have.

  • Allows anonymous chats
  • Support and knowledge base
  • Large marketplace of add-ons
  • Easily convert conversations to Video calls or Book a consultation with add-ons.
  • It's not free and some add-ons also have fees associated.
  • Could be more complicated to set up particularly with various add-ons, but fast to get support.

Other notable chat options

Taking the chat to a video call

You may want to take your chat to a video or voice call. This is a great way to provide the same experience your customer would receive in-store. Start the call on a mobile device and take them on a shopping tour through your store. Or use a laptop with a built-in webcam.
(Don't forget your headphones, we've found the Apple headphones are great and the mic pics up your voice without all the background noise.)

There are a multitude of ways to do video however most options either involve both parties being members of a particular service, software or apps needing to be installed, becoming personal friends on Facebook or require exchanging personal contact details to use Apple Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp etc, which all work completely fine (And Free!) but there is a barrier to starting the call which we want to avoid.

We've found Google Meet to be the best solution here. (It's similar to the free Hangouts version but doesn't require the other party to have a Google account). If you have a Gmail account or you use Google Apps for your business email then you can easily start a Meet video call. (A free Gmail account will need to be upgraded to a G-Suite account to create Meet Hangouts, $6USD/m). When you start a Meet call you get given a link. Simply give this link to your customer (paste it into the chat) and they can join the call right there within their browser. The video call link also works on smartphones.

To allow yourself to roam the store while on the video call, download the "Meet" app to easily create and take calls. (iPhone, Android)

Failing that, give them a buzz on the landline.

You’ve got the products... now how to take payment

This approach is for those who are not in a position to set up a full ecommerce solution.  

The high level overview:

1. Create a sale on your Point of Sale software and get a sale or order number

2. Create a transaction for the order

  • Take the card details over the phone
    1. Log in to your Payment Providers portal
    2. Create a new transaction
    3. Key in the customers card details and amount for payment.
  •   Or send an invoice through Xero
    1. Log in to your Xero account
    2.  Create an Invoice
    3. Email the invoice to your customer using Xero Pay Now feature
    4. Customers can then make card payments once they receive the email.

3. Payment received.. Ship the goods or alert they are ready for pickup.

You should already have a merchant account through your in-store eftpos system. It would be worthwhile talking to them first to discuss options for taking payments over the phone or via an email/link as setting up a new provider can take too long.

To send an email / link for payment with Xero

We would recommend using Xero to create an invoice. You can then send this invoice to your customer with a Pay Now button to take payment.

See the list of payment providers that work with Xero.

We've found some popular payment providers like Stripe and Paypal have stricter restrictions on pharmacy businesses and don't allow you to use them due to issues around the sale of government controlled medications and prescriptions.

Other payment providers do allow transactions but only operate as a Gateway so require that you have a merchant account with your bank. These include:

Shipping vs Pickup vs Delivery

Once payment is received it's now time to ship your goods or ask your customer to come and pick-up. You may wish to organise a courier to pick-up the goods to minimise customer contact and courier companies will be operating during COVID-19 lockdowns as an essential service.

Tools like GoSweetSpot are very useful for organising couriers and getting the most competitive rate. Or go direct to your preferred courier provider and negotiate competitive rates.

Flip side is you may want to organise your own deliveries within your team. How this is optimised is entirely up to your team and how big you are. But there are ideally economies in grouping deliveries a couple of times a day and only within your local area.

Taking things online, the traditional way

Creating an ecommerce store on your website is a great way to advertise what products you have available and streamline sales without the overhead of consultation. It sounds like a dream and I'm sure many pharmacists have dabbled with this idea.

In reality doing ecommerce well is a lot of work, getting pictures, descriptions written for all your products does take time. And there is a daily overhead on your store to fulfill these orders.  We've also seen a very competitive space online, where it seems to be a race for the bottom on price and customers will search Google for the cheapest vitamins in the land. However, during these COVID times this logic may be a bit up in the air as your local community doesn't want to leave the house and would prefer a fast delivery if that is what you offer.

You might want to take a staged approach and only offer a subset of your top sellers to be purchased directly on the site as a starting point.

With Rocketspark creating an online store is a breeze and it's available on all our plans.

Optimise your pharmacy for local Google searches

It's important that your pharmacy website is search engine optimised for local searches for your community. As your customers will be searching in Google for "Pharmacy in Pirongia" as an example to find their local pharmacy.

Here’s things we’ve seen work well:

  • Make sure your local search phrase is on your homepage 3x
  • Make sure you have a Google Business listing.
  • Write blog posts on very specific topics and questions people might be searching for
  • Create landing pages focussed on very specific topics and key word phrases
  • Linking blog posts and landing pages together

We’re always nagging our friends in pharmacy businesses to write some blogs as it really helps their rankings but they’re often too busy. Maybe now might be the perfect time to invest in some content creation.

Check out our Rocketspark eBook on building an effective website for step by step guidance on optimising your site for search engines.

Know what financial support you can get

Be proactive and get on the phone now with key stakeholders to find out what kind of financial assistance you can get access to — don’t wait for it to come to you.  Our experience with government funding opportunities before COVID-19 is that help is there but you need to do the groundwork and communication well. Over-communicate with stakeholders, don’t miss out on opportunities.

We recommend reaching out to these agencies for advice:

  • Your local chamber of commerce
  • Regional economic development agency which may have regional development funding available
  • Government rescue packages
  • Talk to your bank.  Banks are recognising the need to protect businesses and we’ve seen good support provided today to a client’s business who’s orders had stopped. 

How to access government COVID-19 financial assistance.

We can help

If you need help in anyway, don’t forget you can get in touch with us.