Walgreens: Apple may have new watch - but collecting data from wearables is already in motion

ComputerworldUK asks the mobile product lead for one of the largest pharmacy retailers in the world what this week’s most-talked-about launch means for business.

Joe Rago, senior mobile product manager at Walgreens, works closely with external developers to keep Walgreens’ digital strategy at the forefront.

The US-wide pharmacy, which has over 8,000 outlets, invests hugely in its e-commerce and digital products, with good reason. Walgreens has seen its digital photo business revenue increase from one to 40 percent across its internal and third-party apps.

“Between the Walgreens app and third-party programme we have seen a huge spike in return in the percentage of things coming through mobile” Rago says.

So what will the new Apple launch mean for Walgreens’ mobile app team?

Despite the worldwide media storm surrounding Apple’s latest releases - a watch and two versions of the iPhone 6 - Rago believes the biggest game changer has already been announced. He thinks Apple’s developer framework HealthKit, announced by Cook this summer, will offer a lot of new opportunities for Walgreens.

“Now that Apple and Google have programmes where they are collecting a bunch of different types of health activity data, there are going to be more and more apps that are built that are simply using what [data points] are in the phone already.”

“There is already a huge boost in fitness devices and wearables. Where you are going to see some distinction is on the user experience, or functionality built around the data.

"But if Apple push wearables into the mass market - this will spell a change for businesses who work with developers externally", Rago added.

“I definitely think there is going to be a huge boost in apps within that market - which will only mean good things for our API programme. It is going to create a larger pool of developers that we can work with.”

Within the business, Rago says, thoughts have now turned to how Apple’s new technology might be used for a Walgreens app. For example, camera features are central to two of Walgreens’ successful APIs - the quick prints photos and camera barcode reading for prescriptions.

Apple Pay

Walgreens was announced as a major partner for Apple's Pay feature, with NFC technology which could change the way customers interact in stores. But Rago says there is still a while to go until that really changes its transaction models.

Until the devices are out people won't get a better understanding of how that works.”

Despite this, Rago says Walgreens will be looking closely at the in-app payments technology as well as other features to ensure it goes into Walgreens’ apps to get ahead of the trend.

“Any technology that makes it easier for customers to pay? We need to take due diligence to put it into our applications.”

Opening APIs to make the best apps

Walgreens has boosted flagging revenue channels by opening up Application User Interfaces (APIs) to external partners so that they can use the retailers’ data to create these much-needed, innovative apps.

The retailer has three open APIs that allow third parties to build novel apps that have helped boost footfall and sales. One is Quick Prints - an app that allows customers to take photos and instantly send them to their nearest Walgreens to be printed and collected when convenient.

The firm’s latest API release was “silently launched” last month. It allows developers to work on a loyalty programme that rewards healthy choices with Walgreens rewards.

The API allows external apps that monitor running and walking, daily weight checks or blood glucose measurements to connect to Walgreens to reward customers with loyalty points.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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