Add self-care to cart: The shift to online OTC has arrived


Add self-care to cart: The shift to online OTC has arrived

The global pandemic profoundly impacted shopper behavior and the consumer goods industry. E-commerce migration became the new key measure of economic success for manufacturers and retailers—including the healthcare retail industry, which saw a +20.6% growth in sales in 2021 compared to 2020.  

In particular, omnichannel shopping galvanized growth for the over-the-counter (OTC) market, adding 7.1 million new e-commerce shoppers and providing brands and retailers with essential consumer insights. 

E-commerce expansion 

Despite an increase in online shopping, NielsenIQ RMS sales data revealed shoppers did not suspend brick-and-mortar shopping, as very few shoppers are exclusive to e-commerce (9%). When Nielsen IQ looks across all major categories in OTC, there is evidence of strong, double-digit growth among all healthcare categories online. For example, our data shows growth in:  

  • Ear Care +67.6% 
  • Upper Respiratory +22.5% 
  • Footcare +22.2% 
  • GI Care +19.5% 
  • Sexual Health +19.4% 

Of note, subscription purchases drive 9% of online OTC sales. For these companies landing subscriptions is key as they are able to lock in a steady revenue stream while only offering small cost savings on products. The vitamins and supplements category has 33% of its online purchases from subscriptions. 

Brick-and-mortar continues to evolve 

When compared with in-store purchases, the story is much more varied. Growth in brick and mortar is increasing slightly, at 5.8% for OTC sales, but the total market is double the worth of online. We observed growth in select categories that correspond with online, with a few exceptions: 

  • Ear Care +16.3% 
  • Upper Respiratory +15.5% 
  • Sexual Health +12.5% 
  • Eye Care +9.0% 
  • Footcare +8.9% 

NielsenIQ’s analysis uncovered an interesting trend in how consumers are shopping for sleeping and alertness aids. Most shoppers prefer to shop the e-shelf, with +22.8% growth, and the data shows a -1.7% in-store decline versus last year.  

The proven strategy of choice for brick-and-mortar retailers is click and collect: it combines the ease of online shopping with the convenience of immediate pickup. Popularity for this shopping method surged during the pandemic (43%) because it helps reduce in-person contact. The challenge for brands is double counting click and collect purchases from brick-and-mortar or online sales, which NielsenIQ Omnichannel solutions can distinguish with ease. 

The future is omnichannel 

The majority of shoppers purchase both online and in-store, with a healthy 10% increase across omnichannel sales. Brands and retailers must underscore marketing efforts for both online and in-store. Omnichannel marketing efforts deserve equal prominence, so consumers can shop wherever best meets their needs at the time.