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Walgreens: 40pc of online prescription refills happen via mobile

January 20, 2012

NEW YORK – An executive with Walgreens speaking at the Mobile FirstLook 2012 conference yesterday said that 40 percent of the retailer’s online prescription refills are being filled via mobile devices.

Providing convenience is the cornerstone of Walgreen’s overall strategy and a key driving factor in its mobile efforts to date. Enabling consumers to refill prescriptions via SMS text messaging as well as an app is a key way that Walgreens is tapping mobile to make filling prescriptions more convenient.

“We think that our stores are very convenient,” said Abhi Dhar, ecommerce chief technology officer of Walgreens, Deerfield, IL. “When we make it more convenient, people develop a strong relationship with our brand.”

“We took it very carefully and the results paid off – now more than 40 percent of our online prescription refills from all digital channels come from mobile scanning,” he said.

“It took two years for the 40 percent versus 15 percent to get to where we were online.”

Mobile FirstLook: Strategy 2012 was a presentation of Napean, parent to Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily.

Multichannel customers
Several years ago, the retailer set out to make sure it is relevant to customers who are spending more time online. With almost half of the customers who interact with the brand digitally saying that their next action is to go to store, Walgreens could not afford to overlook this audience.

The company’s research also shows that customers who engage with it in more than one channel are three times more valuable than customers who only interact in store.

“We better do a good job digitally because if half of them don’t go to our stores, they’re going somewhere else,” Mr. Dhar said.

Building the connection between the computer and the store was the first step. Once this was in place, it began investing in mobile.

Mobile is a key part of the strategy because of its ability to connect in-store experiences with online ones.

“As we investing in mobile, the mobile platform actually connects the traditional Internet digital experience with our stores,” Mr. Dhar said.

An SMS text messaging program that lets customers refill prescriptions and makes them aware when their prescriptions are ready has proven to be a big hit.

Walgreens also has mobile versions of all of its Web sites and offers a scanning app that allows users to refill prescriptions.

Over two million customers have a SMS relationship with Walgreens.

“If you want to engage with customers on a more immediate basis, the response to text messages is significantly faster than the response to emails,” Mr. Dhar said.

“If you serve them well, they will come back,” he said. “This solves the number one pain point when someone is sick – they want their prescriptions and they want to leave quickly.

“People really appreciate the fact that we are trying to remind them to maintain their medicine regimen. We also realized that store associates appreciate the convenience.”

Simple messaging
In fact, the success of the SMS program is attributed in part to the fact that store associates and pharmacists are encouraging customers to sign up because it makes the customers and the store associates’ lives easier.

The SMS program is also promoted across Walgreens’ multiple channels, including via email, with in-store signage and on the Web site.

An email campaign telling customers that they can get useful reminders with prescription text alerts had an 18 percent daily increase in opt-ins for the duration of the campaign.

“We have a multichannel strategy to drive SMS adoption because of the unique value it brings to customers, including incremental savings and convenience,” Mr. Dhar said. “We want to make sure we expose consumers to that.”

Walgreens also learned that the simpler the messaging around mobile is more effective at driving SMS opt-in rates and app download rates.

“Simple messages work, we saw that in the app, too,” Mr. Dhar said. “Complex messages don’t work as well.

The retailer tested a program using SMS text messaging to send special offers for products throughout the store. Users could show the message to a cashier to redeem the offer.

While it was a success with customers, store associates reacted negatively because they could not read the screen and were not sure of the validity of the offers because there were no codes associated with them.

Walgreens reacted by revamping the strategy to send text alerts to customers alerting them to new exclusive offers in the Walgreens app. That program was launched during the recent holiday season.

Users can get a coupon link via the app and then hold their phone up at checkout so a store associate can scan the bar code.

Walgreens had to specially install new scanners for the program.

“When we moved from text message to download and scan coupons, a side benefit was it that it increased the download rate for our app,” Mr. Dhar said.

Coupons on the mobile app have a have a specific goal.

“We don’t think consumers are going to have more than one drugstore chain app on their phones and we want to be it,” Mr. Dhar said. “So the offers are specific to the app.”

Mobile FSIs
Walgreens is testing a new mobile service in stores in Chicago and Indianapolis, IL, that will enable users to go online, submit a shopping list to a store where a store associate will pull the items off the shelf. Users will receive a text when the order is ready and go to the store, where a store associate will bring their bag out to them in the parking lot.

Walgreens is experimenting with how to let the store know customers are in the parking lot to pick up their order, including having them call or text the store.

Going forward, the company is focused on bringing its free-standing insert program to the digital and mobile realm. The Sunday circular now appears in the mobile app with an additional reward offered to customers who are in the store.

“Our merchandising model has been FSIs,” Mr. Dhar said. “How do we replace that with something that can be more ubiquitous than an FSI.

“Our intention is not to drive trips into the store but to increase the basket size,” he said.

Final Take
Abhi Dhar, ecommerce chief technology officer, Walgreens, Deerfield, IL

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