Walgreens Promotes Digital Health With Wearable Tech, Virtual Doctor Visits
Walgreens is trying to lead retailers with its digitized approach to healthcare. America's biggest drugstore chain's strategy now includes a branded wearable fitness monitor, in-store augmented reality product locators and a new telehealth partnership to provide around-the-clock access to physicians via its mobile app.
CVS may have stolen a march on the industry competition in the realm of anti-smoking, but Walgreens has become a trailblazer in setting up a systematic network of apps and other digital itouchpoints to give customers unprecedented control over their health and wellness information, whether they're in or outside the store.
"We're absolutely focused on this area of omnichannel digital health," Adam Pellegrini, vice president of digital health for the Chicago-based chain, recently told a recent conference. "We're working every day on new ideas."
The brand is trying to become a one-stop shop not only for pharmaceuticals but also for lifestyle and preventative healthcare products. Walgreens has already been among the leaders in the pharmacy business in providing in-store flu shots and other services, and continues to make heavy investments in its Healthy Choices rewards campaign.
One of the latest is a Walgreens-branded wristband that the chain debuted in November and is selling online at a discount for $59.99. The Walgreens Activity Tracker provides tracking of sleep, distances traversed and calories consumed, and multitasks by offering text and meeting notifications as well.
The tracker also syncs with the Walgreens Balance Rewards app, which awards participants points for logging weight, tracking blood pressure and glucose levels and other "healthy" activities. The app also works with other popular fitness devices such as those made by Fitbit and iHealth, and with other popular health apps.
"Walgreens' successful integration of wearables into their customer experience has in turn grown customer loyalty and fundamentally changed their relationship with customers from transactional—that is, simply selling health and wellness products—to a partnership in their customers' journey to wellness," wrote a Communispace blogger.
Another move in that direction is the indoor retail-mapping project that Walgreens launched with Google's Project Tango 3D computer-vision technology and with aisle411, an in-store mobile marketing platform.
The program provides a user with a tablet when they enter the store which they can carry or attach to a shopping cart. And as they traverse the store and head down specific aisles, the Project Tango software uses augmented reality to "pop" out products with detailed information or promotions.
"Stores and brands can leverage this to create a branded destination experience with the store, rewarding shoppers for visiting the store and thereby driving store traffic," said Nathan Pettyjohn, CEO of aisle411. In a conference video, Pettyjohn added: "People can merge digital with reality and get rewarded with points as they walk through the store. And we can overlay personalized special offers that turn the store into an immersive, game-like experience."
Also on the conference video, Pellegrini added that one of the retailer's aims is to "provide a place for the customer to come and adopt healthy habits and actually get rewarded for them, [which helps make] those tiny habits stick."
Walgreens also is boosting its mobile app with a personalized dashboard that includes an industry-first immunization widget offering a visitor's immunization history and recommendations for further action. "The goal," Pellegrini said, "is not just healthy choices around fitness but also around your health habits."
And this week came its latest move: a deal with telehealth provider MDLive that enables Walgreens mobile app users to consult a board-certified physician from their computer, tablet or phone, according to Forbes. The service will start in California and Michigan and roll out from there.
Clearly, the digital health arena will be an ever-expanding one, and Walgreens wants to be in the driver's seat as it does.