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The Digital Renaissance

What eCommerce Platforms are Online Pharmacies Using?

In the Covid-19 era, pharmacies are one of the growth areas, as everyone wants to be sure they’re doubling down on their vitamin C, zinc, and overall health. Indeed, one UVer too many has been ordering one item too many from CVS.

This led us to wonder, what ecommerce platforms are the major online pharmacies in the US using?

We reviewed the 7 major US online pharmacies, and ignored the online superstores that happen to have a pharmacy section, such as the Stop & Shop. (Oh, how I miss thee, Stop & Shop!)

CVSOracle Commerce
Rite AidMagento
The Online Drug StoreBigCommerce
Health WarehouseCustom
Blink HealthCustom
Pill PackCustom

In short, one uses Oracle, one Magento, one BigCommerce, and four use home-grown platforms.

This is interesting in a few ways.

The first is that it is surprising how few online pharmacies there are in the US! But the changing landscape of small business and small site USA is a great subject for another article, not this one.

The second is that 4 out of the 7 are homegrown platforms. That’s surprising considering the vast amount of ecommerce systems out there to choose from, including high-end, enterprise-grade ecommerce systems.

It seems likely that one reason is that pharmacies have a bunch of idiosyncratic requirements that traditional ecommerce platforms don’t account for, since non-pharmacies don’t need them. Prescriptions? Consumer products that your insurance may pay for? Strict regulatory controls about what can be sold to whom, where, and when? That adds in a lot of complexities that you would have to stretch, say, WooCommerce very far to try to get. 

Traditionally — say, 10 to 15 years ago, at the dawn of ecommerce — if your ecommerce had non-standard requirements, you had no choice but to build your own platform. In 2020, the landscape looks very different; there is a wide variety of powerful, scalable, and customizable platforms (our weapon of choice here at UV, more often than not, is Salesforce Commerce Cloud) on top of which you can build your customized workflows and features, but which take care of the basics, like order management.

The third surprising observation about this list is that Magento is there. Magento, the open source and free platform traditionally used by corner mom-and-pop stores, which came online in the pre-Shopify era… powers

On the one hand, that is stretching Magento’s abilities to the max. But on the other hand, it also shows how much Magento has been maturing as a platform, that it is able to handle a site as large and complex as Rite Aid’s.

The fourth surprising item on the list is Pill Pack, now owned by Amazon. They’re a separate website and commerce experience than so for the purposes of this list we didn’t take them into account.

But their innovative approach to online pharmacies is the shadow that is cast over this whole list. While the others try to just be a simple and direct ecommerce store, Pill Pack creates a modern, smooth experience, integrating your paperwork and prescriptions upfront from the get-go, and almost makes me want to order some Advil just to use them. I can see why Amazon bought them for a number that has so many zeros at the end of it.

The fifth surprising aspect of this list was the absence of Salesforce Commerce Cloud (formerly Demandware). We would speculate that the reason is that Salesforce Commerce Cloud really shines in fashion and retail and never built up the consumables or pharmaceutical user experience or functionality. (Unsurprisingly: you need to stick to your core strength; and pharma retail in the US has relatively few players.)

Finally, we’ll give honorable mentions to Oracle Commerce and BigCommerce. One a legacy platform and the other a modern cloud platform — the waxing and waning players, side by side — making excellent showings in the top 7.

Overall, with a very limited sample size and a small market, there will always be randomness in technological choices. Had one Director of eCommerce chosen a slightly different direction, the numbers here would be way different. But even accounting for that, patterns always emerge, and the strongest pattern here, worth remembering, is that the more unique and complex your product’s requirements are, the more likely you are to need a custom system. Especially ten years ago.