Drug chains respond to crisis

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Within the mass retailing community it was America’s chain drug retailers that responded most immediately, most proactively and most effectively before and after Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of the East Coast of the United States.

Within the mass retailing community it was America’s chain drug retailers that responded most immediately, most proactively and most effectively before and after Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of the East Coast of the United States.

On the day before the hurricane made landfall, Walgreens advised its customers to purchase such emergency essentials as batteries, snacks, groceries and first aid equipment. As well, the drug chain reminded its customers to make certain they had enough medication on hand to get them through the storm.

Walgreens went so far as to e-mail its “most valued” customers, telling them that they could go online to find stores in their area that were open. As well, the drug chain offered its customers suggestions to help them survive the experience — advice that ran the gamut from proper evacuation procedures to the importance of keeping a written record of current prescriptions. Finally, the Chicago-based drug chain offered suggestions on filling prescriptions electronically by using a smartphone to register for the retailer’s mobile applications.

Rite Aid told its customers that they could fill their prescriptions at any Rite Aid store in any city and state in which the retailer operates, using the retailer’s national pharmacy network. As well, customers were told that the drug chain had laid in ample supplies of such essentials as bottled water, batteries, flashlights, canned food, pet necessities, first aid supplies and other emergency provisions at those stores in the path of Hurricane Sandy. As well, the retailer recommended that customers maintain a seven-day supply of medications and medical supplies, and stock up on such emergency provisions as duct tape and cleaning supplies.

Rite Aid also kept its customers informed as to how many of its drug stores had been substantially damaged during the storm. Specifically, as of Wednesday night (October 31), 188 Rite Aid drug stores were either closed or operating with no power. At the height of the storm two days earlier, 790 Rite Aid stores were closed.

CVS also notified its customers about the status of its drug stores as the storm approached, informing them that the stores would remain open in the affected areas “for as long as possible” and carry adequate supplies of water, batteries, flashlights and other products “to help in an ­emergency.”

All three drug chains emphasized the importance of monitoring customers’ prescription drug supplies, with CVS advising patients to access their prescription information at the Pharmacy section of CVS.com, where resources such as My Pharmacy would enable patients to view all of their prescriptions and manage refills and a Drug Information Center would enable patients to determine which medications can be taken together and allow them to view descriptive images of each prescribed pill. As did the other drug chains, CVS offered advice on preparing for a hurricane.

Happily, the reality, as far as the major drug chains were concerned, closely mirrored expectations. On October 31, two days after the hurricane devastated New York City, those Duane Reade and Walgreens stores that managed to either remain open or reopen mostly handled the overflow and sometimes impatient crowd with admirable efficiency and only an occasional touch of asperity. This, despite the fact that the employees’ collective patience was more than occasionally tried, as customers ringed store interiors in their impatience to reach often-undermanned checkstands.

Finally, though stocks were sharply depleted by Thursday in drug chains throughout Manhattan, the borough’s chain drug stores emerged from the ordeal as the retailers harried consumers turned to first when panic set in and depended on most.

Surprisingly, other members of the mass retailing community — most notably Walmart and Target — did not, at first glance, respond as frequently or substantively as did the largest chain drug retailers. Indeed, few press releases or other bulletins emanated from Bentonville, Ark., or Minneapolis either immediately preceding or following the devastating event. Walmart, however, did post a message on its website to the effect that the retailer experienced 294 “facility closures, most of them due to mandatory evacuations, power outages and safety concerns.” The world’s largest retailer also announced that it had established a call center for associates to ascertain which Walmart staffers needed ­assistance.

As for America’s grocery retailers, little was heard from them in the way of a public display. The information that became available dealt mostly with the struggles grocery retailers faced in reopening stores that had been closed and attempting to assess the damage at those supermarkets in particularly hard-hit ­areas.

Finally, it should be noted that all three of America’s large drug chains quickly announced donations to assist relief efforts. Walgreens pledged $250,000 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, while CVS and Rite Aid each announced $100,000 gifts to the same organization. A portion of the gifts was to be made in cash, the remainder in merchandise. Target, it should be noted, announced on Thursday, November 1, that it intended to donate $500,000, mostly to the American Red Cross, for disaster relief.



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