A U.S.-based pharmacy industry group hopes it will be able to require online pharmacies to qualify for a ".pharmacy" domain name to assure consumers that they're legitimate, Drug Store News reported on Wednesday (April 17).
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) applied for control of the .pharmacy top-level domain (TLD) last June, as part an expansion of the Internet domain-name system. (The TLD is at the very end of a domain name. Most major retailers end their domains with the TLD .com.) If the NABP is awarded control of .pharmacy, it plans to vet applicants to make sure they meet applicable pharmacy licensing and regulations. According to the group, 97 percent of the 10,275 online pharmacies it has reviewed are out of compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards.
NABP also said it has formed partnerships with international regulators, pharmacy organizations and law enforcement organizations to encourage use of the name.
What the group hasn't said is how exactly it will get online pharmacies to apply for new .pharmacy domain names. Mentioning partnerships with regulators and law enforcement is a none-too-subtle hint that NABP hopes to make the .pharmacy names—and the vetting that goes along with them—a legal requirement. But that's still only a hint, and a long way from enforceable regulations.
Even more of a problem is the fact that most chains that operate retail pharmacies in the U.S. (the NABP's home country) have no intention of abandoning their .com domain names. Will Walmart (NYSE:WMT) risk confusing its pharmacy customers by switching every customer to Walmart.pharmacy in midshopping trip? How about Target (NYSE:TGT), Kroger (NYSE:KR), Costco (NASDAQ:COST) and Safeway (NYSE:SWY)? (Both Walmart and Safeway have also applied for their own new vanity TLDs, which makes them even less likely to pay extra for .pharmacy if they're not legally required to use it.) And that list still doesn't get to the pure-play drugstore chains like Walgreen's (NYSE:WAG), CVS (NYSE:CVS) and Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD). If the NABP can't get online pharmacies in its home country to buy into the domain-name change, how will it convince the rest of the world?
That's the fundamental problem with the idea of regulation-by-domain-name. It's not impossible to control who can use a particular TLD. In fact, that's the easy part. But .com is so widely used that it's the default for both retailers and customers. The real challenge is getting retailers to pay extra for a specialized TLD that isn't familiar to customers and thus doesn't actually seem to offer them any benefit. Unless there's a much bigger stick behind it than hoping for adoption, it's not likely to happen.