Navigating the Latest Consumer Trends in OTC Retail


Dive into our latest survey insights to master OTC marketing through understanding consumer behaviors and trends.

For over-the-counter(OTC) marketers, understanding consumers is an ongoing challenge — but it’s the necessary first step to effectively reach consumers and meet their needs.

That’s why we’re bringing forward survey results that reveal the latest consumer behaviors, decision-making, and mindsets:

  • In Part 1 below, explore macro trends across OTC product categories

  • In Part 2, dig into specific trends in Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements, Cold & Flu, and Gut Health

The more we as marketers learn about consumers, the more effectively we can reach and educate them. Through a deep understanding of our audiences, Healthline Media builds evidence-based, medically-backed resources that help consumers make informed, proactive decisions. At the right time in their journeys, we connect solution-seeking consumers with OTC brands that offer them the products they need.

Trend #1: Gen Z and Millennials buy OTC products more frequently

Our survey revealed consumers aged 18-34 tend to buy products more often than older consumers.

This might run counter to expectations — consider pain relievers, which you might associate with the aches and pains of older generations. Yet a quarter of younger consumers buy pain relievers every 1-2 months, compared to only 16% of 35-65 year olds and 11% of 65-80 year olds.

That being said, the “household” effect in OTC is still powerful. Across OTC categories, those with three or more people in their household tend to buy OTC products more frequently than those with one or two people.

Trend #2: Millennial women are looking to discover new OTC products

Overall, younger consumers buy OTC products more frequently. But for marketers looking to capture new customers (or increase brand loyalty), it’s notable that Millennials in particular are most likely (65%) to say they are on the lookout for new products to help improve their health and wellness. As Millennials are also the largest living generation, this represents a major opportunity for marketers.

Their interest in novel products outpaces every other generation, including Gen Z (50%), Gen X (56%) and Boomers (48%). This could be attributed to their life stage, as they have income to spend and are balancing youth trends with approaching middle-age health concerns.

This same survey also showed that Millennials are most likely (59%) to be making health and wellness decisions for loved ones, typically children, compared with 41% of all consumers.

Millennial women deserve particular attention from brands, as women (58%) are more likely than men (52%) to be on the lookout for new products, while men (48%) are more likely than women (42%) to say they stick with products they've always used.

Trend #3: Younger consumers are interested in OTC retail add-ons for their online pharmacy experiences

Overall, the in-person “pharmacy plus OTC” experience is still predominant. A substantial 61% of people prefer to pick up prescriptions at in-person stores. Of those who like shopping at their local pharmacy, 67% were satisfied with their ability to shop for other, non-prescription products at those stores, Boomers even more so (74%).

But marketers should have their eye on online retail, too. Asked about online purchases, 31% of consumers say they typically buy OTC medical items, while 46% buy personal care and beauty products.

Younger consumers are especially interested in online OTC shopping. Half of Gen Z and Millennials say they are satisfied with their “ability to purchase non-prescription products through an online drugstore experience,” compared with 34% of all consumers. These consumers are interested in ways to easily add OTC products to their delivery — giving marketers reason to push for growth and innovation in this area.


Trend #4: Generations vary in their preferred channels for product discovery

Social media may have the trends, but old-fashioned word-of-mouth still plays a pivotal role in product discovery. A notable 57% of individuals learn about new products from their healthcare professionals and 42% through recommendations from friends and family.

This trend is particularly pronounced among Boomers, 70% of whom rely on their doctors for product discoveries, while 54% of Gen Z prefers the endorsement of family and friends. Overall, most people are not comfortable trying new products on their own and prefer to first get the opinions of friends or family members.

That being said, digital resources still have a critical role to play — especially resources that help consumers balance word-of-mouth recommendations with science-backed education. And when marketers are able to establish trust and credibility in digital channels — where you have control over messaging — you can effectively influence people to become enthusiastic promoters of your brand.

Online searches are a key source of information on products for 37% of consumers, and about one-quarter discover health and wellness products through familiar websites. Social media, although it influences a smaller segment of the overall population at 23%, becomes significantly more impactful among Gen Z, where its effectiveness doubles.

Overall, these trends highlight the diverse channels through which different generations build familiarity and trust with products and brands, underscoring the importance of tailored communication strategies.

Tailor OTC Marketing for Maximum Impact

Understanding the nuanced consumer behaviors, preferences, and influences across different generations is more crucial than ever for OTC brands aiming to effectively reach and resonate with their target audiences.

In Part 2, we delve deeper into specific trends within key product categories, vitamins, minerals & supplements, cold & flu, and gut health, highlighting opportunities for OTC brands to align marketing strategies with consumer expectations.

Reach out now to get more OTC marketing insights and schedule a call about how we can work together. 

more often, quarter, 16%, 11%, TBD, three or more, 67%, 74%, 31%, 53%, 43%, 31%, 60%, 34%, 45%, 35%, 24%, 38%, 28%, 18%: Healthline Media Pharmacy Segmentation study. Survey of 3,000 US adults who make decisions about prescription medications for themselves or family members. Dec 2022; 65%, 50%, 56%, 48%, 59%, 58%, 52%, 48%, 42%, 61%, 57%, 70%, 54%, 37%, one-quarter, 23%, doubles: Health Segmentation study. Survey of 2,985 U.S. adults. Dec 2023.

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