The Consumer Reconsidered: Consumer Healthcare

How to adapt to changing consumer behaviour

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  • Report
  • 10 minute read
  • 07 Dec 2023

There’s a widely held belief that the way consumers buy healthcare products is predictable and habitual, but research from PwC UK reveals most people are open to change. By understanding how consumers think - as well as their existing routines when it comes to healthcare products - it’s possible for brands, retailers and health providers to influence their buying decisions.

How consumers buy healthcare products and services has changed. With traditional healthcare services still under pressure from demands caused by the pandemic and an ageing population, individuals are increasingly looking to take greater ownership of their own health. This shift is creating untapped opportunities for brands, retailers and health providers. 

Research from PwC UK reveals that consumer buying behaviours are paradoxical, unpredictable and prime for disruption. Pricing, availability and promotional deals can sway even the most loyal consumers in-store, but the channels brands and retailers use to reach them can make or break trust.

By truly understanding how attitudes, behaviours and buying habits are evolving, it’s possible to attract consumers’ attention, engage with them in the right way and influence their decisions.

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Explore the key insights

Understand buying behaviours

Reach consumers at the moments that matter

On the surface, consumer healthcare purchases seem difficult to influence. The majority buy the same product most or all the time and many rarely seek advice, which can make it seem challenging for brands to influence decision-making. But it’s not as predictable as you might expect.

When we asked consumers if they tend to buy the same product, only 19% say they have unwavering loyalty and buy the same one every time. The vast majority of consumers (81%) are open to trying something else, even though 68% tend to buy the same product most of the time. 

Interestingly, despite making repeat purchases, consumers don’t tend to plan ahead. Nearly half (43%) only buy healthcare products when they need them, rather than stocking up in advance. Even one in three of the most frequent buyers, who purchase products once a month or more, buy when their symptoms arise rather than stocking up in advance. 

The frequency of consumers’ purchases combined with their willingness to change products suggests there are ample opportunities for brands and retailers to influence the buying journey. The key is being in the right location at the right time.  

Use our interactive diagram to see how you can reach and influence consumers 

Source: PwC The Consumer Reconsidered Research 2023

Be part of the conversation

Communicate through the channels consumers trust

Brands have long understood the importance of gaining and retaining consumer trust, especially when it comes to health. Consumers have more access to health-related data and advice than ever before, and expect transparent, objective and honest information about everything from ingredients and suppliers to company values and ethics. 

With a proliferation of online channels and social media, the line between objective advice and advertising blurs. As a result, it can be increasingly hard to tell a knowledgeable healthcare expert from an unqualified influencer. 

Brands rightly focus on trust as critical to creating strong and lasting relationships, with consumers receptive to exploring new services and sources of information. However, we believe it is also useful to consider distrust.

Use our interactive diagram to see where consumers’ turn for trusted advice 

Source: PwC The Consumer Reconsidered Research 2023

Win over your consumers

What steps can you take to engage and convert consumers?

Be visible and front of mind

Brands that are front of mind - and available in-store - have a unique opportunity to attract consumers. Factors like availability, pricing, special offers and positioning in-store all influence the final buying decision.

"Consumer health brands have a real opportunity to encourage loyalty and switching in a store where most customers still make their purchases. Brands have to stand out from the competition with the right messaging, packaging and merchandising - using more creative ways to amplify the brand from exclusive products/bundling to pop-up displays and digital touch points."

Jacqueline Windsor,Partner and Head of Retail, PwC UK

Increasingly shoppers, especially those that stock up, are buying healthcare products in supermarkets, discount stores and other generalists. Making sure that you are in the right locations that your customers - and potential customers - shop is essential.

Capitalise on established trust

Consumer health brands should invest in cultivating loyalty and they can do this by harnessing the credibility of trusted sources. Consider creating content, information or guidance that’s up-to-date, balanced, and based on officially published recommendations from professionals or researchers to give your brand more authority and demonstrate expertise.

“Consumers have access to medical and scientific data and expertise via the internet (should they want it), and an array of peer networks where they can find advice from fellow sufferers who have the clout of personal experience of their condition. Brands need to mix the right tone of authority with all the tools of persuasion in store, to win these savvy and informed customers.”

Tamar Kasriel,Futurist, Futureal

Personalise experiences

Consumers are inundated with health-related content and a plethora of alternative products. To cut through the noise and resonate, you need to use data and insights to personalise messaging, offers, and interactions.

“We know that people want more personalised products, services and experiences across the board, and consumer health is no exception. We’re working with brands to harness data to understand and anticipate customer needs - it’s about reaching them where they are, speaking to their unique preferences, and delivering value.”

Tom Adams,UK Experience Consulting and Marketing Transformation Leader, PwC UK

About this research

The Consumer Reconsidered: Consumer Healthcare features the findings of consumer research undertaken on behalf of PwC, including focus groups with shoppers during 2023, and a nationally representative survey of 2,519 UK adults, of whom 1,248 are regular CH buyers with 1 of 5 conditions, undertaken in May 2023. 

Over-the-counter (OTC) consumer health products are medicines you can buy without a prescription from a healthcare professional. They are typically taken to treat minor health problems such as pain relief, allergies, and skin conditions.

Contact us

Lisa Hooker

Lisa Hooker

Leader of Industry for Consumer Markets, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7802 882562

Kien Tan

Kien Tan

Director, Retail Strategy, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7880 552726

Jacqueline Windsor

Jacqueline Windsor

Partner in Strategy& Deals Consumer Markets and Head of Retail, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7801 074739

Megan Higgins

Megan Higgins

Customer and Retail Analytics, Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7718 979448

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