Retail Merchandiser

The diabetic demographic: better education and monitoring are saving lives and creating a lucrative marketing opportunity.(Cover Story)

Diabetics are right up there with teens and burgeoning ethnic groups when it comes to retailers' efforts to transform them into valued customers. They are not always the youngest, healthiest or most glamorous--many are 60-plus, obese and have other serious medical conditions. But their sheer numbers, coupled with their market basket size, shopping frequency and lifetime medical needs, make them one of the largest and fastest growing groups for both retail pharmacy and front-end.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), diabetics represent 6.3% of the total U.S. population. The ADA pegs the direct medical cost of managing and treating diabetes in the U.S. at about $92 billion annually. This means frequent visits to a retail pharmacy. Over the past two years, retailers have been stepping up efforts to make these visits more valuable.

In addition to wider assortments of the syringes, insulins, test strips and blood monitoring machines diabetics have used for decades, mass, drug and supermarket chains are increasing offerings in OTC products for diabetics. They are also expanding their roster of in-store services and community education programs for the group which is a whopping 18.2 million strong (5.2 million of those remain undiagnosed and another 41 million have pre-diabetes), says the ADA.

"This is a hotly competitive area for retailers," says Kerrylyn Whalen Rodriguez, pharmacy manager and director of the two-year-old ShopKo Pharmacists Assisting in Diabetes Education (S.P.A.I.D.E.) program, a growing, 25-store initiative involving specially trained store personnel, consultation programs and an expanded product selection. "You are serving a niche that is needed for patient care but is also a huge sales driver. It's not just the right thing to do, it's profitable."

Whalen Rodriguez says a diabetic takes an average of eight prescription drugs for diabetes and the many conditions that can occur with or because of it--like high blood pressure, kidney disease and heart and circulation problems, to name a few. When they shop for prescriptions, customers along with family members or caregivers also purchase front-end products that are related to and not related to diabetes. ShopKo's stores stock more than 400 OTC diabetes-related products. Whalen Rodriguez says patients also purchase apparel, shampoo, seasonal merchandise and other goods.

This frequency of shopping, coupled with the fact that people can live with diabetes for decades, separates the diabetes customer from shoppers with other chronic illnesses. …

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