When Australian pharmacy giant Chemist Warehouse opened its first New Zealand outlet less than 50 metres from The Register team’s office, Courtney Devereux and Sarah Dunn couldn’t resist heading in for a mystery shopping trip or two.
Our first impression is that Chemist Warehouse’s in-store experience may come as a shock to consumers who are used to experiencing pharmacies as hushed, carefully-merchandised small spaces. It seems to have more in common with The Warehouse and JB HiFi than any existing Kiwi pharmacies – it’s really nailed the warehouse feel, with a lot of space, long aisles and a very simple layout. It’s definitely not a premium proposition but it does offer real value and a lot of choice.
Customers are steered into the perfume section upon entering before carrying on down the child and baby goods aisle to the back of the store, where the prescription counter is installed. The store is much, much bigger than a standard Kiwi pharmacy, with whole aisles dedicated to product categories which would take up a single shelf at competing stores.
Besides the traditional pharmacy categories of perfume; child and baby goods; supplements; fitness products; skincare; make-up and accessories; and first aid, Chemist Warehouse offers additional categories such as healthy snack foods and herbal teas. It also stocks an impressive range of footwear.
We weren’t taken with the make-up selection, which seemed dominated by unfamiliar low-end brands, but the competitive prices and wide variety in the supplements section and the fitness products section had us impressed. We each identified products we’d purchased repeatedly from Kiwi retailers at well below the prices we’d come to expect to pay for them, and Chemist Warehouse had a number of brands and products new to New Zealand which we were interested to try.
The healthy snack options were tempting as most ran for a lower price than that of brands you might find at Farro Fresh or health stores. Alongside these were brands we’d become fond of overseas which aren’t yet stocked in New Zealand: Courtney was excited to find a brand of protein powder she’d been purchasing online and importing from Australia, and Sarah was pleased to see a French micellular water she’d been getting from Strawberrynet in the skincare aisle.
Both products were priced significantly lower at Chemist Warehouse than the outlets we’d been sourcing them from, without factoring in the added convenience of picking them up in person.
Chemist Warehouse’s variety may not quite live up to the promise of its footprint. We noticed that stock levels seem very high in some categories, such as supplements. Some brands, such as Goat Soap and QV Skincare, had five or six cartons of each product in the whole range displayed all at once, filling up whole shelf units at a time.
There’s also some repetition bulking out Chemist Warehouse’s offering. We remarked on an unusual product made from dried, encapsulated kangaroo meat in the supplements aisle before spotting it stocked again among the protein powders. This does seem to offer convenience for customers – and if you’ve got the space, why not?
Chemist Warehouse obviously expected significant interest in the launch. When we visited during its first week, staffing levels were very high – Sarah skipped an aisle because six or seven staff members were hanging around and blocking the way – and all were ready to engage with customers in a friendly, helpful manner.
We’ve been unable to establish whether a rumour that Chemist Warehouse can set up a store and welcome customers in within 48 hours is true, but we can see how it might be possible. There’s not much done in the way of merchandising. However, the chain’s core proposition of value and choice is coming through strongly, and there’s enough exciting new finds available to keep Kiwi shoppers coming back.
For cheap staples, there’s no doubt it’s possible to find something to fill a need quickly and for a low price. Personally, we won’t be shopping for make-up or perfume at Chemist Warehouse, but we’re looking forward to stocking up on healthy snacks, staple skincare products, protein powder and affordable vitamins in the near future. No doubt many other Aucklanders will, too.
Chemist Warehouse has been contacted with requests for an interview.