Discount pharmacy chain Chemist Warehouse’s European expansion

Chemist Warehouse is expanding into Europe, opening its first store in the Northern Hemisphere in Dublin.

The discount pharmacy chain known for free prescriptions and stacking its shelves high with product has been in expansion mode since it launched in New Zealand three years ago.

Chemist Warehouse has begun opening stores in China and it is expected that the retailer will test the European market in Ireland before expanding into England and Scotland.

Retail analyst Chris Wilkinson said the retail market and “consumer characteristics” in Dublin were similar to those in Australia so it was not surprising it had chosen to open its first European stores there.

The retailer has opened a 5000sq m store in Dublin’s Westend Shopping Park and is understood to have signed deals to open two further stores in Dublin next year, before planning to roll out store locations across the country.

Homeware and electronics retailer Harvey Norman took a similar root for expansion into Europe, establishing itself in Ireland. “There’s a favourable business attraction in Ireland, it’s quite a good staging post into those markets,” said Wilkinson.

He believes Chemist Warehouse will be “hugely disruptive” for the Irish and British pharmacy scenes.

“Chemist Warehouse is a massive disruptor,” he said, adding that it would ruffle the feathers of retail chain Boots, which was increasingly shifting to more clinical pharmacy services.

“The advent of the Chemist Warehouse model of stack it high, sell it cheaply will have huge attraction for consumers over there.

“The market is prime for disruption.”

Wilkinson believes Chemist Warehouse will be successful and become a household name in Ireland and other European markets.

There would not only be strong appetite by consumers, but also suppliers who would welcome the competition, he said.

The model was already working well in China, Australia and New Zealand, but was having severe impacts on independent pharmacies, Wilkinson said.

“It is very challenging for a smaller pharmacy having a Chemist Warehouse move into the area, or indeed a Countdown pharmacy or Bargain Chemist, because these businesses have much stronger buying power and have often got unique products that small pharmacies don’t have, and they promise value.”

Chemist Warehouse, which operates 460 stores, has been contacted for comment.

A spokesperson for Chemist Warehouse told The Retail Bulletin it had not anticipated launching in Ireland during a pandemic, but said now more than ever consumers were after value.

“Ireland was always going to be a great fit for Chemist Warehouse, with similar demographics to Australia. We saw an opportunity to give the Irish customer affordable healthcare and leading brands at the best price. We didn’t anticipate arriving in Ireland just as a pandemic hit, however, now more than ever, consumers want the best value possible.”

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