Walgreens is hoping a new slate of tech tools will help it build stronger relationships with customers and keep pace with the rapidly occurring tech transformation in the pharmacy industry.
Walgreens Boots Alliance is implementing new customer analytics and outreach tools that will help it better understand and serve customers, thanks to a partnership with Microsoft and Adobe. The new technology will allow Walgreens to compile data and create individual customer profiles — whether they shop in stores, online, through the mobile app or all three — and it will use that information to more frequently engage with customers.
In addition to providing a better customer experience, the tools may encourage customers to spend more and shop at Walgreens more frequently, by providing prescription refill reminders, product recommendations and advice and other services.
The effort could be a much-needed boost to the beleaguered drug store giant.
Walgreens, which operates its namesake chain in the United States and Boots pharmacies in the United Kingdom and Europe, was one of the worst performing stocks in the Dow last year and shares have fallen another 28% since the start of 2020. The company has struggled as lower-priced generic drugs and a decline in reimbursement rates for medications from state and federal government health care plans weigh on profits. Walgreens, like Rite Aid and CVS, has also been hurt by increased pharmacy competition from Walmart and Amazon, which now owns online pharmacy PillPack.
The new partnership will help put Walgreens' digital capabilities on a more even playing field with those competitors, and also give it a leg up against digital pharmacy startups like Capsule.
"I would say more than just competing, it will help us truly leapfrog (the competition) and get us into this space," said Vineet Mehra, chief marketing officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance.
Mehra said Walgreens also has existing assets that will improve the effectiveness of the new technology, including customer data profiles of more than 100 million individuals globally and stores within 5 miles of nearly 80% of the US population. The company employs more than 80,000 pharmacists and other health care professionals, which customers will now be able to access for health advice or product recommendations both in-person or online.
The new tools will use information that Walgreens customers provide through its loyalty program.
Here's how the technology could change a customer's experience, according to Mehra: If a customer purchases Vitamin B every month, at the end of the month when they log in to the Walgreens website, their personalized landing page will show a variety of Vitamin B products to choose from.
If that customer also browses Vitamin C products while shopping online but doesn't purchase any, they might receive a text the next time they walk by a Walgreens store, letting them know the product they were interested in is in stock. When they go inside to buy the Vitamin C, the customer could also get a notification that the prescription they were set to pick up from the pharmacy the following day is actually ready to now. The pharmacist might let the customer know they're due for a flu shot, since they got one at the same location the prior year.
"As we know more and more about these folks, what you can expect from WBA is a complete transformation in how we market to customers," Mehra said. "We'll be doing it in a 1:1 way, giving them what they need in the way they need it, with experiences being much more tailored."
The goal with the new technology, Mehra said, is "mass personalization," something many retailers aim to provide these days. The company wants to offer a personalized, individual experience to each of the company's millions of customers.
Digital capabilities are especially important during the coronavirus pandemic, when fewer consumers are shopping in stores and many have shifted purchasing habits to buy from new retailers or brands.
"We talk about the old days of retail where (the retailer) gets to pick what to sell, where to sell it and when to sell it. That has completely flipped," said Shelley Bransten, Microsoft's vice president of global retail and consumer goods.
"Consumers might not say, 'I want personalization,' but they're making choices incredibly quickly based on: How relevant is this product for me? How relevant is the price to me? Can it get to me within an hour, or a day? The retailer being able to sense that and respond in real time is key," Bransten said.