How CVS’s role in the pandemic is reshaping it as a community health center

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In a session at the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) inaugural Retail Converge event in June, Neela Montgomery, President and Executive Vice President of CVS Pharmacy / Retail, discussed the company’s plans to grow and adapt to a post-pandemic world. Montgomery was interviewed by Matthew Shay, President and CEO, NRF, during an opening session of the week-long digital event. Here are some highlights from their conversation.

The role of CVS staff as the world enters a post-pandemic phase

CVS pharmacists have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic and their relationships with their communities will continue. A pharmacist has more frequent interactions with individuals than many other healthcare professionals, Montgomery pointed out. She also noted that 30% of people have delayed some sort of medical procedure during the pandemic, so now working at a rapid pace will be vital in helping to maintain the health of the population. CVS aims to offer a variety of health services and provide convenient, affordable and accessible care.

“We are looking at legislation in a number of places to allow more of our pharmacists to prescribe and offer more deliveries,” Montgomery said. “We are convinced that the role of the pharmacist will evolve and accelerate after the pandemic.”

Growing with industry

People are investing more in health and wellness, and the category is growing both online and through physical stores. But according to Montgomery, it’s just unaffordable for many, and CVS wants to look for 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,” explains Montgomery. “But virtual health is being talked about as a new industry. As CVS reflects on our strengths, we believe we can deliver an integrated care model that delivers access, convenience and value to consumers. We can play a role in disrupting health care in a positive way. “

Predicting the future of consumer behavior

The biggest and most notable change we’ve seen during the pandemic has been the use of digital channels by consumers, Montgomery said. Categories that hadn’t seen much e-commerce penetration, such as groceries, were discovered and shoppers paid a higher price for services like DoorDash and Instacart.

“2020 will be the year of omnichannel,” Montgomery said. “I was shocked by the demand for curbside pickup and in-store pickup; each retailer has developed these services.

Some of those spending habits will remain the same, but what’s also surprising is the return to brick and mortar, Montgomery said.

“Yes, digital continues to be huge, I think it’s going to stay, but not entirely,” Montgomery offered. “We’re going to go back to an omni-experience and people will remember what they like about a store visit and why. It’s up to retailers to remind them what it is.”

Montgomery also said taking the best of the digital and the physical and combining those experiences will be key. Retailers who combine the best of what they do on both channels will be the most successful after the pandemic.

Other changes on the horizon

The focus will continue to be on health and wellness, and in a different way than before the pandemic. There will be a demand for immune care, a focus on sleep, active aging, more holistic thinking about health and nutrition, and more, Montgomery said.

CVS will also continue to focus on its localized formats. For example, one location in Miami has bilingual staff and 1,500 popular Hispanic brands on the shelves. Retailers will need to focus on convenience alongside the community to be successful, and will need to tailor their assortment to be hyper relevant, Montgomery advised.

“We have other trends like beauty, where we’ve invested in high-end beauty stores to have an interesting mix of brands,” Montgomery continued. “We wouldn’t have this everywhere, but in specific markets it works well. Some stores offer a very wide range of health services; we’re really trying to tailor the right CVS to the right community.

Most urban stores in places like New York and Washington, DC have suffered from the pandemic, but these have rebounded, Montgomery said. She called the event exciting and promising.


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