Pharmacies in Germany Play a Key Role in OTC Sales Growth

Over the Counter (OTC): People in Germany have been self-medicating more and more in recent years. Sales of prescription-free drugs are increasing at pharmacies and through online mail order services. Why?

March 2020

Germany’s pharmacies are in a unique position to exploit the trend towards self-medication. One reason is down to tradition. An Apotheke is still the first place a person goes if they need medicine in Germany.  Pharmacies are unlike the big health and beauty supply chains in the United States or the United Kingdom, where non-medical items such as make-up, hair dye, and laundry detergent are also sold. Pharmacists in Germany specialize in drugs – from aspirin to zyrtec™, and what is more, by law, these products must be dispensed by trained professionals from pharmacies, either in shops or online. Add to that the Germans’ confidence in pharmacists’ recommendations and it becomes even clearer. People who sell medicine in Germany must be highly qualified, trained professionals. Many people say, especially when self-medicating, that a trip to the Apotheke can often be more informative and less time consuming than a visit to the doctor.

The Lions–Pharmacy in Trier is the oldest pharmacy in Germany. It was first referred to in writing in 1241 and has been familyowned since 1660. © Stock, Stocksy, N. Kazakov; Architects: Glahn Architekten

Walter Pechmann, a key account manager at the marketing research company GfK said, “The recommendation from a pharmacy to buy a specific medicine is a decisive factor in patient decisions to buy a certain product.” He cited statistics indicating 20 percent of OTC sales can be traced back to a pharmacist’s recommendation. By contrast, a doctor’s recommendation played a role in only 14 percent of OTC purchases.

Pechmann added that consumers tend to use online pharmacies to buy more expensive OTC drugs that are part of a planned therapy regime, yet when it comes to cold medications, painkillers and other products that patients use to treat acute conditions, the “brick and mortar” pharmacy shops have the upper hand.

Melanie Wiegand, expert at Germany Trade & Invest, explained: “The classic pharmacies enjoy a very strong market position and German consumers love their pharmacies. Non-prescription healthcare products in particular are being purchased more and more frequently on-line.” Wiegand added, “I expect this trend to continue, because people in Germany are very health-conscious and more and more people are positive about buying things online.”

With appropriate market knowledge, Germany offers huge opportunities for pharmaceuticals sales, whether they are OTC or prescription products. After all, OECD statistics for outlays on medicinal drugs show that Germany leads Europe, with an annual spending of 55 percent higher than the European average.