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Analysis: Why Sam’s Club and H-E-B Dominate Pharmacy Customer Service


The J.D. Power 2023 Pharmacy Study finds consumers prefer Sam’s Club to Costco when it comes to brick-and-mortar mass merchandiser pharmacies, and H-E-B to Wegmans and Publix when it comes to supermarket pharmacies.

“As pharmacies continue to take on a more significant role in healthcare delivery and ongoing care management, the pharmacist has become a critical link in the healthcare continuum,” said Christopher Lis, managing director of global healthcare intelligence at J.D. Power.

“Customers are rewarding pharmacies that deliver personalized service, including interactions where communications occur on a first-name basis and when the pharmacist is available to answer questions.”

Such examples of personalized service are moments of truth to help brick-and-mortar pharmacies forge meaningful connections with customers. Mail-order pharmacies, by contrast, are less likely to have these personal connections and, in turn, are seeing declines in customer loyalty, Lis added.

James Lott, founder and CEO of Scripted, feels Sam’s Club and H-E-B do an exemplary job of utilizing technology to achieve efficiency and of staffing.

“It’s all about 2 things,” Lott told The Food Institute, “better technology tools to help them manage the pharmacy [and] happy pharmacists who have more time to help their patients in a meaningful way.”

Lott, who was a pharmacy manager at Walmart and also worked at H-E-B, said both Sam’s Club and H-E-B provide pharmacists with more staff than competitors, resulting in better working conditions that translate to better customer service.

“Overworked and overburdened pharmacists, which is the case for many across the nation, lead to a worse patient experience and burnout among pharmacists,” Lott said.

Stellar Pharmacies Can Improve Sales Elsewhere

The convenience of an in-store pharmacy drives sales of other items, experts say.

“Ultimately, in-store pharmacies also help big-box retailers compete against the Internet for more in-person shopping traffic and daily retail revenues, because they are also a prescribed destination for medications and medicinal advice unavailable over-the-counter in other retail stores,” said retail consultant Baron Christopher Hanson.

“In the case of H-E-B, Sam’s Club, and other large retailers with sensational pharmacies, they obviously have a track record for hiring and retaining the very best pharmacists, which is evidence of a more solid human resource strategy than just a retail strategy.”

J.D. Power found Sam’s Club to have the highest level of overall satisfaction among brick-and-mortar mass merchandiser pharmacies, with a score of 788 – a 29-point increase over 2022.

“We work every day to give our patients access to high-quality and affordable health care services,” said Sam’s Club executive Sean Jackson in a company statement.

Major Retailers Fight to Compete

When it comes to digital pharmacies, Kaiser Permanente Pharmacy topped the J.D. Power list while Good Neighbor Pharmacy ranked first among brick-and-mortar drug store chains.

A recent whitepaper by Placer.ai found retail giants like Target and Walmart are on the forefront of in-store healthcare services. Target has maintained its long-standing agreement with CVS while Walmart Health has expanded its services since launching in 2019.

“Walmart and Target locations that offer health services experience a higher average number of visits per venue than the statewide average for each chain,” Placer.ai wrote.

The healthcare provider space is becoming ever-more crowded – major retailers like Best Buy, Walgreens, and Dollar General are launching their own initiatives. Walmart, recognizing that demand for affordable healthcare is only growing, plans to double the number of clinics it operates by 2024.

What Consumers Seek

The J.D. Power study found consumers still value the neighborhood pharmacist, with satisfaction higher among those who know their pharmacist by name.

Consumers (83%) also indicated they want to receive health and wellness services at their pharmacy – up 3 percentage points from last year. Top services include vaccinations, including flu shots (50%), health screenings (46%), and COVID testing (42%).

In a 2022 press release, H-E-B executive Craig Norman noted that his employer – which took home top billing in pharmacy customer service in 2021 and 2022 – makes a concerted effort to keep pharmacy customers happy. At the time, H-E-B led all brick-and-mortar supermarkets in categories including pharmacy trust, ability to provide prescriptions how/when customers want them, and in digital offerings like mobile apps and texts.

Claiming a top spot in J.D. Power’s pharmacy customer service rankings requires “a true team effort,” the H-E-B executive said.