Way Back Machine: A History of Walgreens’ Website and Online Presence

Way Back Machine: A History of Walgreens’ Website and Online Presence

What’s in this article:

  • Walgreens’ jump from multichannel to omnichannel brand experiences is evident throughout the years.
  • In the wake of the coronavirus shutdown, Walgreens has recently begun focusing on overhauling its digital presence.
  • Walgreens’ recent digital transformation proves that the company is no longer looking to operate within its pre-defined comfort zone to meet the industry’s status quo.

 

With over 9,300 brick-and-mortar locations in the US alone, Walgreens has all but become a household name.

It’s also a massively successful company, too — valued at around $43B as of February 2021.

Knowing just how successful Walgreens has been since its founding 120 years ago, we decided to take a look at how its digital presence has evolved over the years. Oddly enough, we found that Walgreens’ digital efforts have only recently begun to stand out from the average company in its industry.

Still, it’s worth analyzing Walgreens’ digital evolution over the years to understand how the company got to where it currently stands. Using the help of Achive’s trusty Wayback Machine, we’ve looked at the many iterations of Walgreens’ website from 1998 to the present to help paint a picture of where the company has been — and where it’s headed in the near future.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Walgreens’ Website in 1998

Back in 1998, Walgreens’ website looked…well…like many other websites from way back then.

I’ll give you a minute to let the nostalgia wash over you.

Back? Okay, cool.

Obviously, this first iteration is pretty rudimentary by today’s standards — both in terms of design and functionality. It’s very much “what you see is what you get”.

The quirky, dated design focuses more on the novelty of being a website than on user experience. There’s little structure or strategy in terms of how content is being presented — with the exception of the links offered in the header and footnote of the page. The links included in the sidebar, for example, are quite random, and don’t exactly tie into one another.

In terms of functionality, the main focus is on delivering basic information to site visitors. The links provided (“The Company”, “Store Location”, “Visit Our Store”, etc.) are par for the course in 2021 — but this was all quite new back in these early days of mainstream Internet usage.

One thing that does stand out as more modern is the ability to submit prescription refills directly through the website.

Here, we’re seeing the groundwork being laid for the services Walgreens and other pharmacies will begin offering in the near future.

Walgreens’ Website in 2000

Just two years later, Walgreens’ website underwent a major facelift.

Though still rather cluttered, we’re now seeing the site become more focused on user-friendliness over novelty.

For one thing, the site is more compartmentalized, overall. Content and information are grouped in a more contextual manner, as are certain features and functions. This allows for fewer distractions, and more focused browsing for the user.

The addition of a Health Library adds more relevance to the informational content being presented, as well. Here, we’re starting to see the beginnings of strategic, contextual SEO and content marketing.

The “Ask a Pharmacist” feature adds some interactivity to the user’s on-site experience, too. With this feature, users could get quick answers to frequently asked questions, learn more about their online profiles, or even request more specific, personalized information from Walgreens’ pharmacy team.

The company also built up its online services over these couple of years, as well. At this point, customers were able to create an online account to help streamline the process of refilling prescriptions, and to also keep track of their medical history.

(This goes well beyond the simplistic form-filling feature offered in the previous iteration.)

Though dated by 2021’s standards, by 2000 Walgreens has begun to build a functional extension of its brick-and-mortar stores via its increasingly innovative website.

Walgreens’ Website in 2005

Five years later, Walgreens’ website…hadn’t really changed all that much.

Still, there are a couple improvements worth mentioning here.

First, content within the Health Library has become more accessible, with users now being able to navigate to specific topics right from the homepage. This clearer offer of informational content makes the user more likely to engage with the content — and to potentially check out what else Walgreens has to offer on its site.

By now, Walgreens has also enabled customers to submit digital photos to be printed at their local brick-and-mortar location. At a time when digital cameras were becoming more and more commonplace, this was the logical progression as far as the “one hour photo development” services traditionally offered by Walgreens and other drug stores.

Finally — and perhaps most obviously — we’re starting to see Walgreens realize the importance of ecommerce. In addition to the services the company had been offering online (e.g., prescription orders and refills), Walgreens’ 2005 website began enabling customers to order products to be delivered directly to their homes.

This, of course, is par for the course in 2021 — but it was quite the leap for a primarily brick-and-mortar store to take sixteen years ago.

Especially a store that, as we’re about to get to, has often been slow to pick up on the latest trends in the digital realm.

Walgreens’ Website in 2015

Walgreens’ website in 2015 is almost unrecognizable from its previous iterations — both in appearance and focus.

While the site still offers everything the previous versions had, there’s a clear shift towards eCommerce products first, pharmaceutical and services second.

(The fact that the Holiday Gift Shop takes center stage above all else is quite telling, no?)

Still, the pharmacy side of Walgreens hasn’t exactly been put to the backburner. We’re still shown offers for vitamins, flu shots, over-the-counter medicine, and contact lenses as part of the site’s main draw. We’re also provided information with regard to Medicare and healthy living — along with prompts to check out Walgreens’ HealthCare Clinic (a new and improved knowledge base, akin to its “Ask a Pharmacist” service from previous years).

One major innovation we see from Walgreens in 2015 is the jump from multichannel to omnichannel brand experiences. Between the brand’s new mobile app and its device-specific rewards system, Walgreens has clearly begun looking to keep its audience engaged throughout their lives — not just when they’re in-store or on-site.

From a design perspective, Walgreens’ site is certainly less cluttered than it had been — but its homepage is still a bit overwhelming. Whether you know exactly what you’re looking for, or are just browsing around, it may still prove a bit difficult to quickly identify the right link to click.

It’s worth noting that Walgreens acquired Drugstore.com in 2011, which played a large role in the brand’s shift toward online retail and mobile commerce.

Still, in 2015, Forbes labeled Walgreens’ digital strategy “dangerously boring”, citing the brand’s less-than-proactive efforts to stay current with technological advances in the retail and pharmaceutical industries. Essentially, Walgreens had “gone multichannel” for the sake of doing so — not as a way to deliver more value to the customer.

At the time, it seemed like Walgreens would need to be pushed into the 21st century by necessity…

Walgreens’ Website in 2021 (and Beyond)

…which is exactly what happened in 2020.

Like so many brands in so many industries, the coronavirus shutdown  forced Walgreens’ hand. Diving headfirst into omnichannel operations was no longer optional, but mandatory for survival.

Before we dig into the overarching changes Walgreens made to operations, though, let’s take a look at how its website has evolved in the last six years.

First things first:

Walgreens’ redesigned website is much sleeker looking — and much less “busy” — than ever before. The uncluttered use of text, images, and icons allows for intuitive navigation, regardless of the user’s purpose. What’s more, the use of whitespace allows users to keep their attention centered on their specific goals — and avoid getting lost among a sea of irrelevant links and text.

The site also offers a number of features to help users find what they need, or do what they came to do, such as:

  • Pharmacy live chat
  • AI-powered suggested search
  • Automated vaccine appointment scheduling

Looking back on the past iterations we’ve discussed here; you can see that many of these seeds were planted long ago — and have only recently become as functional and user-friendly as they are today.

The newly-designed website also plays into the overarching changes Walgreens has made to its services and customer experience.

Some key examples:

  • Offering free delivery for online orders
  • Partnering with Postmates to offer contactless delivery
  • Creating a digital drive-thru service for curbside pickup

The evolution of Walgreens’ mobile app has also allowed for a number of CX-related improvements, from personalized product recommendations and replenishment reminders to geotargeted outreach. Again, Walgreens’ website plays a huge role in these changes — but is only a part of the bigger picture, at this point.

The main takeaway from Walgreens’ recent digital transformation is that the company is no longer looking to operate within its pre-defined comfort zone to meet the industry’s status quo. The goal isn’t to have a website or a mobile app because “it’s the norm”, but because it allows the company to engage with and provide value to their customers as the customer expects it.

To that end, it’s likely that Walgreens will continue to be proactive in its search for the “next big thing” in terms of serving its audience in more innovative, progressive ways.

Here’s to hoping that they can continue to push outside their comfort zone without being forced to do so in the future.

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