Future Stores Seattle 2018

June 19-June 21, 2018

Sheraton Seattle, WA

Contact Us: 1.888.482.6012

Walgreens Wants to Be the Beacon of In-Store Customer Convenience


With more than 8,000 stores across all 50 US states, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, Walgreens is the true giant of pharmaceutical retail. It has a strong ecommerce strategy of which there can be no doubt – but, what makes Walgreens stand out is the fact that the digital experience it provides not only benefits its online customers, but those that step foot inside their local store as well.

Understanding that mobile devices are no longer merely tools for conducting pre-purchase research, Walgreens has been developing ways that it can provide in-store shopping aids to its customers via their smartphones, knowing that shoppers’ purchase decisions can be impacted on-location and in real-time. Indeed, although Walgreens’ customers most certainly use their mobiles to browse items, they don’t necessarily complete purchases with them.

Kartik Subramanian, Walgreens’ director of product management and mobile commerce spoke to eMarketer about mobile consumer habits:

“We’ve seen a broad, macro trend across the retail industry where consumers are increasingly using mobile to research products, whether it be via apps or mobile-optimized websites. Once they’re informed about a product, it ultimately results in a trip to the store.

“We’ve seen an increase in those kinds of behaviors. Consumers are using mobile to research, but they convert much less [on mobile]. This leads us to believe that mobile will become a model through which consumers want information in bite-sized chunks, but they might not be willing to pay for products via the app or site yet.”

The Beacon of In-store Experience

In a move that appears to be addressing this issue directly, the latest updates to the pharmacy chain’s app function not to increase ecommerce sales per se, but rather enhance the experience for shoppers who want to use their mobiles in their local store. The new features have been designed to connect with in-store beacons, which send out alerts to customers as they pass targeted displays and provide them with increased access to coupons and deals as they hike the aisles of Walgreens stores.

And this would seem to be a good move. Indeed, according to research from BI Intelligence, consumers cite receiving geo-targeted discounts and coupons above all else as a reason why they would opt into in-store tracking and push notification initiatives from retailers.

(Image source: businessinsider.com)

Walgreens began piloting beacons at 10 of its New York-based Duane Reade chain of drugstores a little over two years ago. Since then, it has rolled out its beacon initiative to all of its 8,000 plus physical locations, which are now either geofenced or digitally fenced. This means that not only will Walgreens be able to market to customers with either an iOS or Android Walgreens app installed on their phone, it will know when those customers are actually in a store as well.

“We will know when you are around the store and when you walk in,” Subramanian said. “I know this might sound a little creepy, but it has the best intentions in mind.”

The intentions in question essentially revolve around making customers aware of the best deals and helping them save money while they shop.

Upon setting foot inside a Walgreens store, users of the app are sent a push notification prompting them to set it to “in-store mode”. This puts the shopper’s Walgreens loyalty points right at the top of the screen, and launches an in-store product finder – a search bar that enables shoppers to easily find which products are available in the store that they are in. As they move through the store, further push notifications are set off by in-store beacons, alerting shoppers to various deals displayed on the shelves that they pass, and a few coupons are handed out in the process.

It’s Push Notifications That People Want, Not Pushy Ones

Using beacons to communicate with customers’ mobile devices when they venture near a certain display is one thing – the question that remains, however, is how far Walgreens will push the potential for the technology to serve as a remarketing tool?

This would essentially mean even greater personalization: delivering offers to customers based on past behavior, purchases and store visits. This indeed would prove to even further enhance the relationships that Walgreens wants to build with customers, and ultimately deliver a stronger and more memorable in-store experience. It’s true that customers can sometimes be averse to receiving too many push notifications from retailers. The trick, then, is to ensure that notifications are as personalized and welcoming as possible, and that beacon initiatives leverage both historical and real-time data to ensure that there is good reason to enable “in-store modes” at each visit – and indeed prevent instances when customers feel compelled to simply uninstall an overly-excitable app altogether.

The most crucial thing is to remain relevant – not intrusive and annoying. It’s push notifications that people want, not pushy ones. Indeed, this is something that is at forefront of Walgreens’ mind as it plans to develop its in-store digital strategy going forward.

The last word goes to Cherise Ordlock, divisional Vice President of Digital Commerce at Walgreens.

“We’re thinking about how to better empower customers with digital while they’re in the store. What types of information do customers want in the store experience? How will we help our store associates to better meet customers’ needs from a digital standpoint? How do we get digital content in the hands of customers at the right point in their journey?”


Make sure to also download the Future Stores agenda to check out all of the great activities, speakers, & sessions planned for this year.