Cornerstone on using tech to move into pharmaceuticals

From starting out as a subscription razor business Cornerstone has grown rapidly, recently branching into Viagra and hair loss medication subscriptions.

To support its expansion into pharmaceutical products, the company started using payment platform Adyen. Its former provider would have had difficulties taking payments, as Visa and MasterCard are careful about who they elect to take payments for medical products.   

“If not properly checked, sites could be running dodgy pharmacies online and causing lots of harm to people,” notes Cornerstone CEO Oliver Bridge. The platform also has an intuitive fraud-detection system, so if a repeat customer is abroad when their card is charged, the payment isn’t blocked.

“For us that means fewer payment declines, which means higher revenue. And from the customer perspective, it means there is less incorrect declines on cards.”

Intelligent automation

Cornerstone is a small team of 15 in London. But by using technology it sends out up to 40,000 orders per month. “We’ve always viewed ourselves as a customer focused brand but also a very highly automated technology business,” he says. 

“Moving from toiletries to the pharmacy side was quite a big [step] so there’s lots of restrictions legally but also morally you have to make sure you are doing it absolutely professionally. 

For example, one of the challenges with hair loss treatment is it typically takes 6-12 months to work. “We send out automated content that goes out to customers via email or social media relevant to the stage of treatment they are at.”

It is also used for intelligent product suggestions, such as during the sign-up process of its erectile dysfunction medication. “Clearly, buying that kind of product you are intending to have sex. We also have our own brand of condom, so during the process customers are offered 50% off condoms, as a kind of welcome gift.” 

“It’s about being relevant to the customer. Because we have a smaller more curated range, we can be focused and tailor it better.” Unlike some of the random suggestions that tend to pop up on Amazon, he adds.

The company has also spent a lot of time getting the tone of content right. “On the toiletry and cosmetics side, you tend to sell a vision of what life is like after that product - such as having a whiter smile and a fresher mouth. 

“When you are selling erectile dysfunction medication, you can’t say you are going to have a more erect penis and will give your wife a better time. That’s not appropriate. You have to be much clearer and to the point, moving away from that kind of flowery marketing language.” 

Since launching five years ago, Cornerstone has sent 275,000 customers subscriptions via its custom-built e-commerce platform. Bridge says it has built a sophisticated platform, with an algorithm that can bundle together a range of items sent out at different frequencies – such as boxes containing Viagra every six months and deodorant every fortnight. 

Next year the company plans to branch further out into the pharmacy space. “Building up a range of products: that is where our future lies.”