Abhi Dhar – Chief Technology Officer, Divisional VP – Walgreens

Abhi Dhar is responsible for Walgreens’ digital and mobile presence in the ecommerce division. Dhar and Tim McCauley, director of mobile commerce, spoke with eMarketer’s Tobi Elkin about the chain store’s moves to offer customers prescription refills, photo services and more via mobile.

eMarketer: How does Walgreens view mobile? Where does it fit within the chain’s digital strategy?

Abhi Dhar: It is a connecting platform between the store experience and the online experience that our customers have when they’re on our website. Mobile presented an opportunity, especially with the rapid proliferation of smart devices, that we could address that continuum of experience between online and in-store and drive a multichannel value proposition in the minds of our customers.

eMarketer: How are you creating mobile entry points for consumers across the purchase funnel?

“We’re trying to add value for our customers throughout the different parts of the funnel, whether they’re at home or inside our stores using their mobile phones.”

Tim McCauley: We’re trying to add value for our customers throughout the different parts of the funnel, whether they’re at home or inside our stores using their mobile phones.

Over a year ago we launched our mobile website as well as an iPhone application with Prescription Text Alerts that notify customers via text message when their prescriptions are ready or if there’s a change in their status. Customers have shown a tremendous affinity for that service. The iPhone app also enables shoppers to browse products and check in-store availability, access their prescription histories, offers a store locator and flu-shot locator.

The prescription alert is our way of making it more convenient for customers to know that a prescription is ready to be picked up. With the photo service, we saw that customers want to be able to upload their photos, print them out at the store and pick them up. From a photo services point of view, a significant portion of our revenue is generated from online orders and in-store pickups.

In September, we introduced a prescription refill by scan service and added mobile devices that run on the Android platform. The app enables customers to scan their prescription with their phone. We don’t have 100% of everything we have on our iPhone app on the Android app.

We also noticed that a lot of our customers want the ability to get photos off their phones and have them printed at our stores, whether it’s for attaching photos on greeting cards or just distributing prints. We’re offering this function on the iPhone app via text alerts.

eMarketer: What sorts of things are you doing in terms of mobile couponing and promotions?

McCauley: We’re trying a number of different things in that space. Recently, we had a mobile coupon offering that we promoted via Facebook and other platforms that allowed customers to text in “holiday” via a short code and they would get a message back that invited them to receive our friends and family discount at any of our stores. We basically extended our employee discount to friends and family for a day—the offer was between 15% and 20%. That’s one of the tools we used to tie in the online channel with our offline store environment. The goal was to increase our marketing text message list, as well as drive sales in our stores and convenience for our customers.

“We will be sending more [SMS] alerts on store specials, deals and coupons in 2011.”

With text messaging we always want to be sure there’s an immediacy and an urgency. It definitely helped that customers were able to bring their phones to the store with the offer. They didn’t need to print out a coupon. The cashier checked the text message the customer received and applied the discount. We will be sending more alerts on store specials, deals and coupons in 2011.

eMarketer: How do you measure the performance of your mobile initiatives?

Dhar: It’s challenging because relatively little data exists. There’s a lot of conjecture and speculation. We spend a lot of time doing a sonar sweep, evaluating pieces of data for relevance. We are asking ourselves how do we define engagement in a more quantitative way.

SOURCE eMarketer

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