The ‘what, where and when’ of e-commerce

What product she wants. Where she wants the product. When she wants the product. Delivering on those promises is what multichannel retailing means to Walgreens. “We believe consumers want choice,” noted Sona Chawla, Walgreens’ president of e-commerce. “People will shop online one day, [and] they’ll shop the store the next day; it depends upon events and what they’re looking for.” 


And it’s through that customer engagement that Walgreens has perhaps most visibly transformed its relationship with its consumer base. 


“I call it an additive transformation because what we’re really doing is staking out core assets — our stores — and adding to them in a way to make them more convenient, more relevant, more accessible,” Chawla said. “Our overall strategy really has been to be a health and daily living destination across all of our channels. It’s about that crossroad of happy and healthy.”


The first piece of Walgreens’ e-commerce package flows around pharmacy with the capability to refill prescriptions and do much more through a platform-agnostic shopping app called, simply, “Walgreens.” The app also allows patients to choose to receive medication reminders and print photos in a variety of ways. 


And while smartphone and tablet users skew younger overall, there is a significant senior population of smartphone users that’s growing. According to a Nielsen survey of some 20,000 subscribers that was published in February, 22% of all mobile subscribers were older than 65 years. Of those, 43% had jumped on the mobile bandwagon in the three months prior to the survey. Among those ages 55 years to 64 years, 33% were mobile subscribers and 56% had signed on in the previous 90 days. 


“You look at people using pharmacy online. Those do tend to skew older than the average online customer because [they are] people who have meds, and it’s an incredible convenience for them to manage their prescriptions online,” Chawla said. “Then you get into photo, which is Mom. … We’ve got Drugstore.com [and] we’ve got Beauty.com, so we’re spanning a number of different segments that are definitely shopping and using our sites,” she said. “With mobile, we’re certainly seeing a younger demographic coming [to us and via] social [media] as well. There’s no doubt. What’s fascinating is to watch their behavior evolve and knowing that in many ways we’re serving almost every segment, just differently in terms of what they find important to [them].”


These efforts are clearly gaining traction with customers. According to another Nielsen survey conducted in June, Walgreens’ shopping app ranked No. 6 that month, with 2.8 million unique visitors who spent, on average, a little more than eight minutes on the app. Of brick-and-click operators, the only other retailer that made the list was Target, which ranked No. 7. 


Beyond pharmacy, there’s photo. With many retailers who exited the one-hour photo processing business following consumer migration to digital cameras — and more recently to the camera apps on the ubiquitous smartphones and tablets — photo has become a core Walgreens offering that can be accessed by the consumer wherever they are.


“Now more and more people are taking pictures with their smartphone, and you can very quickly capture them and print them at your local store,” Chawla said. Walgreens enables that through the QuickPrints function on its shopping app that was launched in February. And the company recently opened that code to any developer looking to include the ease and convenience of finding a local Walgreens, shooting that store a photo processing order and picking up the prints in an hour. “This is added revenue for us, because you know a lot of these pictures are floating in this ecosystem,” Chawla said. 


Last month, Walgreens hosted its first Mobile Photo Hack Day at its downtown Chicago 
office to spawn creative implementations of QuickPrints within other apps. The single-day “hackathon” attracted 30 developers who designed 14 photo apps integrated with QuickPrints. 


In addition to pharmacy and photo, Walgreens is folding its front-of-store goods into that multichannel solution and is creating new options for its customers to shop Walgreens across channels as it serves their immediate needs. “On Walgreens.com, more than 30% of our traffic is coming from mobile devices,” Chawla noted. To offer more options to this group, Walgreens launched its Web Pickup service in the Chicago and San Jose markets last year and has since expanded the offering to its Well Experience stores in the Indianapolis market. “We believe consumers value convenience, they value choice and we are providing them all the combinations they want, so they can pick and shop the way they want,” Chawla said. “It literally is what you want, where you want it, when you want it. People have been talking about that for a long time. We are truly making that happen.”


Beyond e-commerce, Walgreens is a very strong participant in social media. Last year, Walgreens launched a campaign with Foursquare that allowed patients to donate flu shots for checking in. The campaign resulted in more than $4 million worth of flu shots being donated and netted Walgreens four Shortys, the Oscar equivalent for the social media industry chosen by the Real-Time Academy of Short Form Arts and Sciences panel of judges, including Best in Show! and Best Use of Foursquare in a Campaign. 


“It really is a compelling use of social [media]. It gets back to engagement, and it adds a new dimension to the brand,” Chawla said. So Walgreens is not only giving consumers the what, where and when, but also the why.

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