Amazon’s PillPack Deal Could Drive Industrial Property Demand
Retailer May Need Specialized Warehouses to Support Online Pharmacy
Amazon’s pending purchase of online pharmacy PillPack has the potential to create a need for specialized warehouse space to ship prescription drugs and even lead to small retail clinics, adding demand to an already surging industrial property market.
The move by the online retailer could have significant implications for industrial property sales, which outperformed other major commercial sectors across the U.S. in the second quarter as Amazon and other companies pump up their supply chains for e-commerce delivery, according to CoStar data.
“If you really read between the lines here, and kind of analyze this, Amazon wants to be part of every single transaction that happens in our lives,” said Gregory Healy, senior vice president of chain and logistics at Colliers International.
Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, bought PillPack in late June for an estimated $1 billion. PillPack holds pharmacy licenses in all 50 states and ships medications from its primary drug distribution center in Manchester, NH, to customers who take multiple daily prescriptions. The company is targeting a major market: On its website, PillPack says 40 million adults take more than five prescriptions each day.
If Amazon incorporates PillPack’s approximately 1 million customers into its Prime membership business, which has 100 million subscribers, the company would need drug distribution centers near large cities cleared to handle medicines, said Santo Leo, founder and CEO of MailMyPrescriptions.com in Boca Raton, FL.
Those could be small centers dotted across the country or a handful of larger ones. In either case, they will have to meet far more specialized state and federal requirements because the goods being handled are medicine, Leo said.
Though Amazon already owns or leases about 100 million square feet of distribution space, “you can’t just rip a warehouse out and put a pharmacy there,” said Leo, whose mail-order pharmacy is licensed to dispense prescription drugs in more than 40 states. “You need to design these from scratch. You need more power, more data, more security measures. Traditional big, bulky, automated facilities are just not designed for pharmaceuticals.”
Pharmaceutical warehouses must have processes in place for temperature control, security, documentation and the ability to address product recalls, said Carmine Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which accredits wholesale pharmaceutical warehouses. Each state also has different licensing requirements.
The company may need new buildings for an online pharmacy, the analysts said. Though Amazon is opening fulfillment centers at a dizzying rate — eight so far in 2018 — it has a host of controls to ensure each center operates at maximum capacity and has little extra space, the company said in its 2017 annual report.
Amazon declined to comment on its plans for specialized PillPack warehouse space. Amazon hasn’t made any public statements about its PillPack strategy since shortly after the purchase, which is expected to close by the end of the year.
Amazon’s PillPack purchase follows its joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase to improve the U.S. health care system and cut costs. PillPack is part of that strategy, said Leo, who predicted Amazon would move quickly to grow PillPack to place pressure on health-care competitors.
“How do you keep people out of the doctor’s office or hospital lab? Make sure people take their prescriptions,” he said.
Healy said the purchase could have implications for any brick-and-mortar plans Amazon has as well, noting the trend toward small, walk-in clinics across the country. It’s estimated there are now almost 3,000 such clinics, according to Accenture. He also speculated that Amazon could add pharmacy services to its Whole Foods stores.
“It will probably net a greater industrial space for Amazon, but I would think there would be some sort of new retail model,” he said. “There could be something else down the pipeline, perhaps a new form of retail.”