Executive Q&A with Sona Chawla, President e-Commerce, Walgreens

I'm thrilled that Sona Chawla will be a keynote speaker at Forrester's Consumer Forum in just over three weeks! As the President of e-Commerce, Sona oversees operations and leads the team responsible for building the sales, service and customer experience of Walgreens.com and drugstore.com (acquired in June 2011). This includes driving store traffic through the Web, growing online profitability, and the development of new product and service offerings via emerging digital touchpoints such as mobile.

Earlier today, Sona provided me with a sneak peek of her upcoming presentation for our forum "110 Years Of Agility: Continuing Our Evolution To Meet Customer Demands" and all I can say is that it's not to be missed! I don't want to reveal too much and spoil it, but Sona will touch on the dynamic forces at play within healthcare and retail that are driving Walgreens' digital transformation, the framework they are utilizing to enable that transformation, and finally what Walgreens sees for the future. And of course throughout the discussion Sona will have key lessons learned and advice for firms across industries going through similar transformations.

I do however want to share with you Sona's responses to some questions we asked her in advance of the event. Her thoughts demonstrate the growing importance (and let's not forget the financial benefits) of serving customers across touchpoints with innovative, digital products and services.

We hope you can make it to Chicago later this month to hear even more from Sona and our other fantastic speakers . . .

Q: How would you describe Walgreen’s digital transformation?

It’s an evolution leading to a revolution.  We’ve been leveraging digital since 1998, when we first launched walgreens.com.  Over the years, we’ve been quick to pilot and scale digital technologies when we see that they can be relevant to our core businesses and our customers.  We don’t just launch a digital initiative because it’s the cool thing du jour. Rather, we start with our core principles around the customer experience and then ask how digital can help enable that experience. When we see opportunities that make sense, we move swiftly and boldly – whether it’s being first to market with innovative mobile features such as “refill by scan” or an acquisition such as drugstore.com that extends the boundaries of our physical store. 

With this approach, digital has slowly infused itself into almost every part of our company.  It’s like watching points of light individually flickering to life and then collectively and gradually lighting up the entire organization. 

Q: How is Walgreens adapting to harness the power of emerging touchpoints such as mobile devices and tablets?

These emerging touch points are very exciting to us because we know that they are driving a confluence of the physical and virtual channels.  Over the last century, we defined “convenient retail” by having the best and most accessible corners in America -- nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population lives within three miles of a Walgreens store.  Now, we are redefining “convenient retail” by connecting these emerging touch points.  A great example is what we are doing with our mobile pharmacy.  It gives people access to their prescription history in their pocket at all times; users can refill prescriptions on the fly and in the shortest time possible with refill by scan (under 30 seconds); there’s no more waiting at the pharmacy counter with text alerts that notify patients when a prescription is ready, and we’re also providing timely reminders to patients to refill prescriptions – with notifications sent via text message or email.  

Another relevant example is our “health guide” – a concept we’re piloting in select stores.  This individual is a dedicated, in-store health concierge and a one-stop resource to answer health-related questions from customers.  Guides are equipped with an iPad application to tap into pertinent web resources, tools and information. 

Q: What new services are you offering to customers to meet their needs across touchpoints?  What impact is this having on your key performance metrics?

I’ve mentioned our mobile pharmacy – pharmacy is a core pillar of our business and the foundation of our vision to become America’s first choice in health and daily living.  We’ve also launched a series of other innovations to meet our customers’ needs across touch points – online pharmacy chat providing 24x7 access to our pharmacy staff, online order/in store pickup in as little as an hour for retail (Web Pickup) and photo creative goods.  By adding more channels, we provide customers more options and drive greater loyalty and stickiness.  A customer who leverages multiple touch points with us is three times more valuable than one who just uses a single channel.

Q: How are you and your team working across organizational silos to support the transformation and deliver for your customers?

We work very hard at it.  We know that we can’t be successful if we don’t knit the organization together to deliver a key initiative.  We also know that everything does not need to be integrated – so it’s all about finding the right balance and prioritizing the projects with the greatest customer impact. To deliver an initiative like Web Pickup, we worked with more than 15 groups across the company.  It was an amazing feat and we delivered in record time because everyone was excited to be part of such a groundbreaking project. 

We also focus on internal education, socialization and goal alignment.  Everyone on my team has to be an evangelist and a “dot connector.”  Very simply, we put the “Big W” ahead of any individual team’s objective or goal – if it’s right for the company and our customers, then we’ll figure out a way to get it done. 


Great post!

I'm really interested in learning more about how Walgreen's track their customers across mutliple touch points and gains insight about the quality of their experience across those channels. Are they evaluating Customer Lifetime Value differently for those who engage in more than one touch point than those who use one channel? It sounds like they're able to get to a very deep level of customer intelligence and segmentation. I'll be at the event so hopefully this is part of the presentation. Thanks for getting me thinking about the content!

I look forward to seeing you in Chicago

Thanks Jess for your reply. I hope you'll ask this question of Sona at the event. In the meantime, I can tell you that I've seen research and data points in the market that show that the value of a customer to a company increases based on the number of touchpoints employed by that customer. See you in Chicago!

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