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Walgreens: transforming customer experience in the COVID-19 era

a man standing in front of a building

For Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), it’s always been about serving people and communities. Even before the pandemic, this global pharmacy retailer took great pains to be close to the people it serves. Today 80 percent of the population in the US live within five miles of a Walgreens store, while in the UK, over 90 percent of the population can access a Boots location within 10 minutes.

This close-knit network of retail stores and pharmacies, coupled with a unique and innovative technology strategy, have served WBA well. In a recent discussion Vineet Mehra, CMO at Walgreens, and Julia White, Corporate VP at Microsoft, examined how this model has allowed WBA to support its customers and communities amid the pandemic and beyond.

“With this kind of neighborhood and community proximity around the world,” stated Mehra. “We can create truly personal relationships with customers in an omnichannel way.”

This connection to customers is a core tenet of the WBA mission, dedicated to helping people around the world lead healthier and happier lives.

Responding and evolving through the pandemic

When COVID-19 struck, WBA customers completely changed their habits, including when they shopped and what they needed. The organization also saw dramatic increases in demand on the retail and healthcare sides of the business, including community pharmacy services, due to so many customers staying close to home.

With cloud-based technology and centralized data from Microsoft and SAP, the organization was able to adjust quickly to the new normal. As a result, WBA teams around the world could be mobilized to enhance public health.

Interactions were supported using digital services such as a telehealth platform that leverages Microsoft Healthcare Bot service, including one bot that focuses solely on COVID-19 risk-assessment. If a customer is determined to be at a higher risk, they’re provided with healthcare advice and additional resources. Pharmacists are also available always to answer questions.

In the UK, Boots pharmacists are supporting the NHS 111 triage service (a dedicated phone line for medical emergencies), answering calls, and providing advice over the phone.

Drive-thru windows that had been reserved for prescription pick-ups were repurposed in record time. Now customers can pick up their entire online order via the drive-thru window.

Customer experiences driven by technology

“Our people have really stepped up to the challenge,” said Mehra. “It’s been an amazing experience to see how everyone is embracing technology and driving customer centricity into the very core of the company.”

Technology is essential to the WBA mission, but even the best digital platforms and all the algorithms in the world are meaningless if the company cannot meet the needs of its customers.

In order to achieve this result, WBA has undergone a complete digital transformation, consolidating its legacy business units on SAP S/4HANA, and moving on-premises applications and IT resources—including the company’s 100-terabyte SAP landscape—to the cloud, with Microsoft Azure as its cloud platform.

As CMO, Mehra believes that technology is essential to achieving the WBA objective of health and happiness for its customers. “The role of the modern CMO has radically changed,” stated Mehra. “Today I spend more time with technology partners than I do with creative agencies.”

This move to the cloud has provided WBA with greater scalability, significant cost savings, and most importantly, the ability to create more personalized experiences for its customers.

Data-driven customer insights

WBA knows its customers well. On the retail side of the business alone, WBA can claim two of the largest loyalty and customer relationship programs in the world: Walgreens Balance® Rewards and the Boots Advantage Card programs. Between these two, the company has over 100 million primary customer profiles.

According to Mehra, these profiles are the engine room from which WBA builds exceptional experiences. The combination of data and insights provides a unified view of each customer, driving continuous improvements to the customer journey.

Mehra offered the example of Amy, a Walgreens customer who visits the store to pick up some vitamins for her family. Amy has the Walgreens app on her phone, and with geotechnology the system is alerted when she arrives. The system also notes that a prescription Amy had dropped off previously is ready ahead of schedule. Amy receives a message on her phone letting her know that she can pick up her prescription while she’s there. At the pharmacy check-out, the pharmacist sees on the screen that it’s time for Amy’s family to have their annual flu shots and helps her schedule an appointment. Information from Amy’s profile and real-time data have presented multiple opportunities to serve the customer.

Next steps (and first steps)

For WBA, the digital transformation will never end. But for those of you who are just starting out, Mehra finished the discussion with three important tips that should be considered when building a similar strategy:

  • Construct a customer-centric culture internally
  • Launch and iterate
  • Centralize data and work horizontally

Listen to the entire session for greater insight into the WBA story, as well as additional advice from Mehra on developing your own digital transformation strategy.



Global pharmacy retail giant Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) is on a digital transformation journey that involves moving on-premises applications and IT resources in a heterogeneous Linux and Windows environment to the cloud. This includes the company’s massive 100-terabyte SAP landscape. WBA chose Microsoft Azure as its cloud platform, and after thorough planning with Microsoft and WBA’s implementation partners, the SAP migration to Azure went smoothly in less than a day. WBA now enjoys improved performance and data centralization that also helps the company provide better customer service. Read the case study to learn more.