Walgreens is Using Technological Upgrades to Merge Digital and Physical Retail

Brought to you by WBR Insights

Over the past few years, there has been a shift in the way customers buy products. The fear that physical retail is dying has put many brands off branching out into brick and mortar stores, instead staying purely in ecommerce spaces.

However, recent evidence suggests that physical retail isn't dying — retail as we know it is just shifting beneath our feet. Brands are now having to adapt to a newer generation of shoppers, so retail is beginning to merge brick and mortar stores with the technology of online shopping.

One brand that is embracing this new status quo is Walgreens, which has introduced tablet computers for employees to use to bridge the gap between physical, human interaction and the digital world.

Physical Retail Intertwining with Online Retail

Both physical and online retail bring with them different positives and ways of selling products. With ecommerce, there's a massive amount of information available online about the products that the customer is considering. However, online shopping is impersonal. With physical retail, customer service workers can pick up on nonverbal communication, and while the interaction may not be as rich in data, it's the type of human-to-human interaction you just can't find online.

Walgreens has been replacing its PC-based in-store technology with handheld and tablet mobile computers throughout its chain's stores. With the previous system that was employed, an associate manager, managers, or any other employee who wanted to know something about an item in the brand's inventory had to go into the back office where the PC was, log onto whatever application the information was stored on, jot it down on a piece of paper, and return to the front of the store where the customer was waiting.

This new digital and portable system means that any employee can show a customer a selection of products, get the information that they need, and place an order for a customer which they can then pick up in the store, arrange home delivery, or direct the customer to a nearby Walgreens that has the item in stock - all without leaving the customer's side.

Store managers are also liberated from the back office. "If I'm a manager," says, Walgreens Vice President for Special Projects, Customer Experience and Store Technology, Andrea Farris, "I can access solutions that allowed me to manage tasks that need to be completed in the stores. For example, I can see my planogram information. Before, I had to go to the office to consult a black-and-white printout of the planogram. Now I can access it as a zoomable and see right in front of me what it should look like when it's set up."

Technological Shift

Walgreens offers customers a widening variety of goods and services through its stores. In keeping up with technological advancements, Walgreens can combine the best qualities of online and physical retail.

"The need to continue upgrading our systems couldn't be supported by those systems, but more importantly, as consumer needs and demands changed, we realized our team members needed better tools," said Farris. "They needed to be able to spend less time focusing on operations — front-end and back-office tasks — and more time on customers."

From the handheld device, sales associates in upgraded stores can now order a missing product on the spot, fulfill click-and-collect orders, all without leaving the store floor and customers side.

This is a key way to maximize a sale opportunity. Now, information and service applications are available at employees' fingertips from a single, nimble, mobile platform. As a result, Walgreens will see fewer missed sales opportunities and higher customer satisfaction because customers are finding what they came into the store looking for.

"Obviously, we can't share the financial results, but the program is tracking well against the business case in terms of cost, as well as in terms of benefits we have been able to achieve through reduction of expenses and improvements in operation," added Farris. "We're very happy with the results so far."

Final Thoughts

In a world where shoppers have so much choice as to where they purchase their items, buyer convenience is key. At the end of the day, if your company's inventory is not accurate and your customer is disappointed, they will go elsewhere for their product and are not likely to return.

By moving with technological advancements and intertwining the physical and online retail into one, Walgreens is making the gap between online and physical retail smaller and smaller, boosting sales and making the customer experience more seamless.

You can hear Walgreens Head of User Experience and Service Design, John Yesko, speak at Future Stores Miami 2020, being held in February, at the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay, FL.

Please download the agenda today for more information and insights.

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