Personalizing healthcare on an enormous scale

Caring for people’s health has been a foundational pillar for Walgreens since the company opened its first drugstore in Chicago in 1901. Today, the chain operates nearly 9,000 stores in the U.S. For many Americans, Walgreens is indeed their neighborhood drugstore—the company estimates that 78% of the U.S. population lives within five miles of one of its stores.

So why is Walgreens taking such bold steps to reinvent itself? In 2021, Roz Brewer, CEO of parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance, unveiled an ambitious plan to transform the role Walgreens plays in supporting its customers’ health. The company’s new vision is to be “a leading partner in reimagining local healthcare and wellbeing for all.” To achieve that vision, Walgreens is rolling out an integrated primary care and pharmacy model that aims to drive better health outcomes, reduce costs, and provide a differentiated patient experience.

At the center of Brewer’s plan is the company’s U.S. healthcare segment, which offers a technology-enabled care model powered by a nationally scaled and locally delivered healthcare platform, organically developed clinical programs, and strategic collaboration with its majority-owned businesses, including VillageMD, Shields, and CareCentrix. For a company that fills 1.2 billion prescriptions a year and serves an estimated 8 million customers in its stores and online each day, that’s a tall order. “We have to really understand at a deep level who people are as individuals,” says Tracey D. Brown, president of Walgreens retail and chief customer officer. “Without the advancement of data, tools, and technology, we wouldn’t be able to do this at scale.”

To accomplish this goal, Walgreens turned to Epsilon, a global advertising and marketing technology company that has been a Walgreens partner for more than a decade. Epsilon provides solutions that enable Walgreens to harness customer data, with the aim of providing more personal interactions and forging deeper relationships that lead to better health outcomes. “As we expand to cover the whole healthcare continuum, the partnership has become that much more important,” Brown says.

Community-driven healthcare

For decades, Walgreens has filled prescriptions and offered customers safe and easy in-store vaccinations—including COVID shots and boosters in recent years. Today, Walgreens provides a much more robust slate of healthcare offerings. For instance, Walgreens’ Health Corners allow people with chronic diseases or acute needs to interact with a nurse health advisor. Plus, Walgreens pharmacists conduct point-of-care testing for common illnesses, and recovering patients have access to the company’s post-acute-care services.

The sheer scale of Walgreens’s business gives the company an advantage when it comes to customer familiarity and trust, but it also presents certain challenges. How does a company create a highly personalized experience in a program designed to serve millions? For Walgreens, providing an individualized experience starts with the company’s loyalty program, myWalgreens, which counts more than 100 million active members. myWalgreens is the connection point for customers making purchases as well as for patients accessing healthcare services. The platform processes 5 million transactions per day and 11 billion calls per year.

Epsilon plays a central role in compiling and optimizing all the data that comes from those transactions. “Epsilon’s loyalty technology powers the myWalgreens experience and provides privacy-centric data that allows Walgreens to better understand and engage with patients and customers on an individual level,” says Sean McCarthy, senior vice president at Epsilon.

For patients and customers, this customized experience comes to life in several ways. It could be as simple as someone who got a flu shot the previous year getting a reminder that they’re due for this year’s shot. Or it could be someone with the flu receiving a coupon for over-the-counter flu medicine. “Our ability to take the data and connect at an individual level and then serve up the things that are most important to meet the customer’s needs—that is golden,” Brown says.

Better data, stronger connections

The Epsilon partnership has allowed Walgreens to connect with customers on many different levels. In 2020, Walgreens formally launched  Walgreens Advertising Group, which runs on Epsilon’s Retail Media Network solution for programmatic media. The initiative helps Walgreens and its brand partners use data to connect customers with the brands and products that most resonate with them—a critical step toward helping them improve their overall healthcare journeys.

“We’re able to attach Walgreens’s first-party data to Epsilon’s CORE ID and serve a brand partner’s ads to the individual most likely to buy, at the right time, in the right channel,” McCarthy says. “That allows Walgreens to build a stronger partnership with its brands, driving traffic into its stores and providing better customer experiences.”

As Walgreens continues on its path toward becoming a holistic health partner for its millions of customers, Epsilon will continue helping to create a more personalized consumer experience and bridging the gap between Walgreens’ retail and healthcare arms. “Our aim is to continue to refine our data, our technology, and our messaging to help Walgreens achieve its goals and have an even greater impact on customers’ lives,” McCarthy says.

As for Walgreens, Brown says the goal is simple: “To help everyone in this country live their best life. More joyful lives through better health.”

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