Walgreens Taps Digital Payments and Data to Reinvent the Customer Journey

New year, new world. That could sum up 2022, but it’s a bit more involved.

If we weren’t thinking about health often enough before, that behavior’s been replaced by a hypervigilance that has wide-ranging impacts. We see it from retail settings to smartphone doctor appointments that went from rare to routine just like that.

Also, during the pandemic, pharmacy became so much more than what we’ve come to expect.

According to Stefanie Kruse, vice president of digital commerce and omnichannel at Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), catering to the new pharmacy consumer is complicated — and crucial.

“Probably the most challenging thing is that every consumer is different, and the customer journey is not linear,” she said in the “Digital Payments Flip the Script: 10 Merchants and 10 Visions for Digital Transformation” series, a PYMNTS and PayPal collaboration. “How you discover and shop and engage with content and products may be very different from how I do that for the exact same set of products, for example.”

That means connecting the dots for the customer’s entire health journey, starting well before they step through the pharmacy doors — and perhaps before they even realize they have a condition that needs treatment.

Everything into the bargain, convenience is among the most winning strategies to emerge.

“We’ve done a lot to invest in those capabilities and think about how we become the fastest, most seamless, frictionless player from a same-day pickup and delivery standpoint,” Kruse told PYMNTS. “That’s where our physical stores and footprint played a significant role in allowing us to do that and have that coverage.”

Expectations around payments are part of the new consumer mindset, and WBA is catering to the appetite for payments choice with an eye on personalization and patient experience.

“Having various payment options allows us to better serve each customer by having the right solution for them and helps convert them because we have that payment mechanism that has the right incentives for them,” Kruse said.

Payments choice is “really important from a retention standpoint,” she added. “We recently rolled out some financial services that really are effective for us to help customers continue shopping with us because we can tailor [payments and experience] based on customer needs.”

See also: Walgreens and VillageMD Adding 5 Jax Area Full-Service PCPs

Being in the ‘Need It Now’ Moment

Walgreen’s online pharmacy expansion is being enabled in almost flywheel fashion by its base of 8,000 physical locations — 13,000 if you count Europe and Latin America — in a highly effective example of omnichannel retailing in a very specialized sector.

“We’re seeing a huge shift to digital adoption, but that’s not at the sacrifice of physical stores and physical retail,” Kruse said. “Digital can really come in to help augment the customer journey, make it more seamless and frictionless ahead of time by allowing them to digitally research store hours, store inventory, pricing and promotion, product information.”

It’s all part of WBA’s road map for post-pandemic customer journeys centered around improving store visits with digital convenience.

Even though it’s pharmacy and not entertainment, Kruse said the company is seeing high engagement levels among pharmacy customers who have a “need it now” moment and rely on the company’s mobile app to quickly and easily fill their prescriptions.

“We’re a pharmacy by heritage,” she said. “Bringing that trust and expertise through and reinforcing that to consumers is a very important part of our brand.”

Data is helping WBA and others streamline shopping journeys and understand payments preferences better in 2022, which in turn informs product and checkout optionality.

“Anything that is leveraging data to enrich and simplify the customer experience is really important for us and how do we use [artificial intelligence (AI)] and machine learning to tailor and personalize experience,” she said.

An example is Walgreen’s Advertising Group using data to “connect brands and consumers in more meaningful ways by partnering with brands to bring together our data and personalize marketing and experiences to consumers.”

Read also: Walgreens Focused on Growing Health Unit as Solid Int’l Results Complicate Sale of Boots Unit

Nailing the Patient-Customer Journey

Of course, not everything on the whiteboard makes it to the mass market. Like all operators, WBA is choosing where it can make a meaningful impact and backing off where it can’t.

“The challenge around being successful in digital is making sure that there is some sort of prioritization mechanism because there are so many new consumer trends and a lot of shiny objects to potentially go after,” Kruse told PYMNTS.

She added that “to really nail the customer experience,” WBA is investing in new technologies while staying focused on a strong foundation of platforms that help it orchestrate it all.

For WBA in 2022, those efforts around experience mean a new search engine, a new content management system, a new product information management system, new testing and optimization software, “with the goal of, again, being able to orchestrate the customer journey in a much more agile but also personalized way.”

“Customers have this paradox of choice when it comes to shopping digitally, which is good and bad,” Kruse said. “We have opened up the world to consumers by making things much more accessible at their fingertips, but at the same time, we also have the responsibility of working to take friction out of that and simplify their choices as well.”