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Walgreens: master of multifaceted multichannel offerings

BY Michael Johnsen

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — There are plenty of retail banners out there that are successfully connecting and interacting with their best customers while they field a robust multichannel offering. But how many are fielding a multifaceted multichannel offering? Whatever retailers you’ve placed on that list, Walgreens has got to be the one banner at the tippy-top.

(THE NEWS: Walgreens mobilizes Facebook fan base to drive flu voucher program. For the full story, click here)

There are just so many angles, so many new ways of thinking how business gets done, that can be drawn from this story. For starters, what other venue outside of social media allows you to "share" with 1 million of your best customers in real time? And these aren’t passive customers — they all opted in for that connection by very publicly stating how much they "like" the brand.

That’s how social media becomes such a powerful enabler. Those retailers embracing a comprehensive social media outreach strategy are finding that they can communicate quickly with their most loyal customers in a relatively inexpensive way. Think about it — how expensive a proposition would it be to reach 1 million impressions through a 30-second spot during primetime network television? How expensive a proposition to reach 1 million impressions on radio? In print? And of those 1 million paid impressions, how many already have intimated that they really like shopping at the advertised location?

Then there’s the social stewardship this story represents. Walgreens isn’t propositioning a message of, "Hey, come spend some money in our stores!" No. Walgreens instead is saying, "Listen, stick with us and we can accomplish good things together!" All someone has to do is check in. That’s it. See what’s happening. And in that simple act that can take place on their laptops at work, on their iPads while they take the kids to the playground or on their smartphones during some down time, Walgreens’ customers can feel that they’ve helped someone else realize better health. Because, in a very real way, they just did.

Finally, think about the other underlying message Walgreens is getting out there through a sort of grassroots social media campaign. "You can get your flu shot at Walgreens. Anytime you want." It wasn’t too long ago that flu shots had to be scheduled at the retail pharmacy, and those shots could only be administered by nurses participating in a third-party flu clinic hosted at the home store. But today consumers can fit their health care into their own, personal schedule.

"Consumers today, they want a multichannel offering. They want to be able to shop where and how they want to." That’s a quote from Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson in his television interview with Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s "Mad Money!" (for that story, click here). He was talking to Cramer about the sway a Walgreens.com or Drugstore.com holds with today’s consumer. But the same can be said about health care. Today’s consumers want their health care on their schedule. And Walgreens aims to do just that.

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The data demonstrates the growing role PAs play in the healthcare field, including clinics

BY Antoinette Alexander

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — The release of the “2010 Census Report and Salary Report,” which indicated that the number of practicing physician assistants has tripled in the past 10 years is important to note, especially as the convenient care clinic model continues to expand.

(THE NEWS: Study: Physician assistant workforce reaches record high. For the full story, click here)

Retail-based clinics undoubtedly are on the growth path, not only with regard to the scope of services but also the number of clinics. As the model continues to expand — and does so more rapidly — it is likely that clinics may need to rely more on physician assistants to assist nurse practitioners in serving patients.

This is especially evident when you also consider the short of primary care providers and the influx of some 30 million uninsured gaining healthcare coverage under healthcare reform. The need for alternative sites of care, such as retail-based health clinics, is on the rise.

The number of practicing physician assistants reached 83,466 in 2010, a 100% increase over the last 10 years, according to the census.

Not all clinic operators employ physician assistants in all clinic locations, largely because of state regulations that vary state to state. However, those clinics that do employ both nurse practitioners and physician assistants undoubtedly have reaped the benefits.

Physician assistants, who are trained in a medical model versus a nursing model, are hailed by clinic operators as being terrific providers who work collaboratively with nurse practitioners. In addition, the two providers often learn a great deal from each other given their different educational background and philosophies, industry sources have told Drug Store News.

The bottom line is perhaps best summed up by Robert Wooten, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, who said: “The PA profession is growing rapidly, and it is key to expanding access to quality health care for millions of Americans.”

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ESI gets hit from both sides

BY Rob Eder

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — If this were a fist-fight, you might say Express Scripts just took the old "one-two" to the jaw — though in this case, the punches came from two different directions.

(THE NEWS: Walgreens makes case of value outside of Express Scripts in SEC filing. For the full story, click here)

Just as the FTC was calling out for a second request for information regarding ESI’s proposed deal to buy Medco, Walgreens was taking its widely publicized battle with ESI public, submitting a seven-page white paper, entitled "The Value of Walgreens," as part of its 8K Securities Exchange Commission filing.

In a statement to Drug Store News, ESI argued that while it still is open to negotiating with Walgreens, "Walgreens would be the highest-cost pharmacy in our network with its current proposed rates," the company said. According to Walgreens, its acquisition of Duane Reade "confirmed our unit prices are highly competitive," and that "in most cases, Walgreens average cost per adjusted script will be within 2% of the average cost per script of the non-Walgreens retail pharmacy network."

ESI claimed it has 56,000 other pharmacies in its network, and doesn¹t need Walgreens to be able to offer its members convenient access. "It’s a short drive or short walk in most instances," ESI noted. But according to Walgreens, "In many communities, Walgreens is the most convenient pharmacy or the only open pharmacy at the time a plan member needs help. For example, in Topeka, Kan., the nearest non-Walgreens 24-hour pharmacy is [more than] an hour drive. In Colorado Springs, Col., Walgreens is the only 24-hour pharmacy."

ESI said it already has been preparing its clients for life after its contract with Walgreens expires Jan. 1, 2012. Walgreens wants to make sure those clients understand their options — work directly with Walgreens, find a new PBM that has Walgreens in its network or force ESI to create a customized network with Walgreens in it if ESI wants to keep their business.

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