TECHNOLOGY

CSA Q&A: Walgreens talks about frictionless retailing

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

In an era when shoppers want a seamless shopping experience, Walgreens is pulling out the stops to deliver on their expectation.

Staying true to its “Whatever, Wherever, Whenever” strategy, Walgreens Boots Alliance is eager to get merchandise into shoppers’ hands — using any means possible, including innovation. By expanding its digital strategy to one that encompasses mobility and other digital disruptors, the drug chain is removing friction from the shopping experience — a move that streamlines customer engagement and drives more connections with shoppers.

Walgreens’ group VP, product and innovation, Deepika Pandey, shared her thoughts about these initiatives — and expectations — with Chain Store Age.

What role is digital disruption playing for Walgreens?

For us, it’s about leveraging a number of ‘disruptive’ digital technologies and making it easier for our customers to do core tasks like refill pharmacy scripts, find products, even edit and order photos. But making things easier for our customers is just the start. It is also about making things more engaging and fun.

A good example is our Digital Coupons Hub. We took a predominately paper-based function — clipping coupons — and made it digital. We also expanded the number of coupons we have on our Hub, injected digital coupons directly into the digital customer journey, personalized the coupons we delivery, and made online redemptions a seamless experience integrated within our Balance Rewards loyalty program. We continue to build on the ‘Clip to Card’ initiative and have a number of even more exciting product launches upcoming.

What will these upcoming projects focus on?

Looking at our product launches in the recent past, we have opportunistically leveraged new technologies and solutions to build experiences that reduce friction from our customers’ busy lives. A great example is our Apple Watch experience. Walgreens was the among the first to leverage Apple Watch, and tie it back to our core mission around keeping customers healthy by delivering pill reminders and prescription alerts directly on their wrists.

Now, as sensors and Internet-enabled devices proliferate and interactions with them become part of our everyday lives, we see mobile as ‘the great connector.’ We build compelling experiences that leverage connections with these devices. The ultimate goal is a seamless experience for our customers and employees.

Speaking of mobile, what is new in your mobile strategy?

Like our digital strategy, our mobile strategy is centered on removing friction from the customer's experience, and ensuring we're always delivering on our promise of convenience. For example, we’ve partnered closely with Apple and Google to bring Walgreens experiences deep within their respective platforms (iOS and Android). A good example is Balance Rewards and Apple Pay, where we've made it possible for in-store customers to use their rewards and pay in seconds, all from an iPhone or Apple Watch.

We were among the first companies to do the same with Android Pay, and among the first to integrate with Google Now for in-context experiences. Our own mobile application remains an important part of our strategy, of course, but it's these deeper platform integrations unlock value and further reduce friction in interesting ways.

What strides have been made with Walgreens’ ship-to-store initiative?

Our goal as an omnichannel retailer is to provide our customers with a variety of options for how she wants to shop with us. Working to fulfill our “Whatever, Wherever, Whenever” strategy, the ship-to-store program provides another convenient fulfillment option for customers. Here, they know their packages will be safe, and the program eliminates the shipping fees for orders under $35.

Since launching our program in late September 2016, we’ve further improved some of the operational aspects. This includes giving our store associates more tools to help manage and track packages, as well as making additional vendors and items available.

What results have you seen since launching ship-to-store?

Overall, we are happy with the level of adoption we have seen from the program, as well as the feedback we are receiving from customers and the field. Shoppers are taking advantage of the program, and early results indicate it is driving incremental business to both our direct and store channels.

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