Alternative antidotes

July 09, 2010, 11:28 PM GMT+0

A new report from YouGov SixthSense highlighting UK pharmaceutical spending habits reveals that the quick and convenient low-budget fix wins out when it comes to buying non-prescribed medicinal products. ‘Alternative’ and herbal remedies are also popular, especially among women.

The larger, non-prescriptive medicinal brands are seen as ‘expensive’ by 28% of targeted UK consumers, but not necessarily more effective. Accordingly, 39% say that when buying painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen they would opt for a lower priced brand. In comparison, only 26% say they would buy a ‘well known brand’.

Moreover, consumers prefer to buy their non-prescriptive drugs at the supermarket (a substantial 78% prefer this) compared to other sources, such as chemists’ or over the Internet. Only two percent of UK consumers currently buy most of their medicines or healthcare treatments online, and only 11% say that they buy a ‘few’ products in this way. 66% say they have never bought medicine online and are ‘unlikely to ever do so’.

James McCoy, Research Director of YouGov SixthSense, explains, ‘People are quite laissez faire when it comes to the purchasing of non-prescribed pharmaceutical products. Brand loyalty is generally low and we have no qualms with going for the quickest, cheapest and most convenient route to pain relief. These trends would appear to account for the popularity of supermarkets as a place of purchase for these items.’

Herbal help

But it’s a different story when it comes to specifically herbal and ‘alternative’ remedies. Customers go beyond the store shelves and turn to online shopping when seeking treatments like St John’s Wort, vitamin supplements and homeopathic products.

Indeed, 18% of respondents say they have bought some kind of herbal remedy online in the past 12 months, while homeopathic treatments, multivitamins and Omega 3 tablets constitute a staggering 41% of medicines respondents have bought via the Internet in the same time period. There’s a clear gender gap though: 75% of those who have used homeopathic/alternative remedies in the last 12 months are women, as are 81% of those who say they currently have homeopathic/alternative remedies in their medicine cabinet.

McCoy continues, ‘a growth in online retailing in non-prescribed products might lead to a larger payoff for wholesalers of alternative medicines; with less personal interaction with qualified pharmacists, consumers may be willing to follow their own research and take a chance on alternative medicines.’

Indeed, herbal and alternative treatments are relatively well credited amongst UK consumers as one in four respondents believes that they are effective in treating or preventing minor ailments, despite only one in ten people consulting a pharmacist before making a non-prescription purchase.

Click here for more information on the YouGov SixthSense health products report’