The big drugstore chain that can build the online shopping mall for delivery of healthcare services the fastest stands to gain the most loyal customers looking for medical care outside the four walls of a hospital or doctor’s office.

Digital technology is changing how consumers shop online for prescription drugs and healthcare equipment and supplies—and what they expect in the way of a superior user experience from web merchants. Are web and omnichannel healthcare merchants delivering on those expectations?

The biggest chains are trying to and it’s a virtual horse race between CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance to see who gets there first. It’s not a winner-take-all-race, but close. The big drugstore chain that can build the online shopping mall for delivery of healthcare services first and fastest stands to gain the most loyal customers looking for medical care outside the four walls of a hospital or doctor’s office—and to compete more effectively against Amazon.

So far, the race is about even, based on data and analysis contained in the newly published Healthcare E-Commerce Report.

The fact that digital pharmacies are looking to carve out market share by using the web and e-commerce to expedite prescription drug delivery hasn’t escaped the attention of CVS Health, which operates 9,700 pharmacies nationwide, and Walgreens, operator of 9,560 drug stores.  Amazon.com, which now operates PillPack as a standalone subsidiary, is licensed to sell prescription drugs in about a dozen states. Amazon recently applied for a license in three more states through PillPack.

It’s not a winner-take-all-race, but close.

To expedite faster delivery—and to borrow a page from Amazon Prime, Amazon’s rewards program, which offers paying members two-day free shipping on millions of items and a streaming video program—CVS in November rolled out CarePass

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CarePass includes free delivery on most medications and purchases, access to a 24/7 pharmacist hotline and 20% off all CVS Health brand products.

CVS is currently piloting Care Pass at its 350 drugstores in and around Boston. Customers can join CarePass for $5 a month or $48 a year and also receive a monthly $10 CarePass promotional reward that can be used toward nearly all purchases in-store and online at CVS.com, CVS says. The CarePass program, which CVS says it will expand to other markets without detailing when or where, is the latest in a series of recent moves to beef up customer loyalty and add more services.

In December, CVS rolled out same-day prescription delivery in New York an in June expanded service to Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Wash­ington, D.C. In these cities, customers have the option to choose same-day delivery for a one-time cost of $8.99. All orders placed by 4:00 p.m. local time are delivered within hours, by 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, orders received by 11:00 a.m. are delivered by 4:00 p.m., CVS says.

CVS Pharmacy, the retail pharmacy division of CVS Health, also is rolling out additional delivery options for its stores and mobile app. CVS Pharmacy customers nationally can now opt to have their prescriptions delivered to their home, rather than going to the store to pick them up. Customers can place orders for one- to two-day prescription delivery service through the CVS app or by calling their local CVS store. The delivery service charge is $4.99.

With CarePass, in addition to extra product discounts and loyalty points, CVS customers in Boston that sign up also get free one- to two-day delivery on qualifying prescription drug orders with home delivery through the U.S. Postal Service.

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Walgreens also is working on faster ways to deliver prescription drugs. Walgreens is currently piloting same-day prescription delivery through its Walgreens Plus program in Gainesville, Florida, as well as same-day/next-day prescription delivery in other select markets, which it didn’t identify. Walgreens Plus is a customer loyalty and frequent shopper program that, for a $20 fee, includes a 20% discount on online and store items, up to a 60% discount on some prescriptions, and expedited prescription delivery.

In December, Walgreens and FedEx Corp. launched a national next-day prescription delivery service.

Patients enrolled in text alerts will receive text notification when qualifying prescriptions are ready. Following a simple process on their mobile device, patients can now have their qualifying prescriptions delivered right to their home as early as the next day (for a $4.99 fee nationwide

“Walgreens is driven by a desire to make healthcare accessible to all across the thousands of communities we serve,” says Walgreens president of operations Richard Ashworth.  “Next-day prescription home delivery is another convenience-driver designed to put care in the hands of our patients,” said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of operations.

The collective web sales of the largest digital pharmacies ranked among the 200 largest healthcare retailers is $3.58 billion. That total currently only accounts for about 1.7% of all retail prescription drug sales, which totaled about $212 billion in 2017, says healthcare research firm IQVIA.

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The 67-page Healthcare E-Commerce Report produced by Internet Health Management and Internet Retailer, both members of the Digital Commerce 360 family of e-commerce research products, is filled with best practice data, analysis and case studies that explain how merchants are meeting customer expectations through excellent website design, customer service and systems integration strategies and programs.

For more information, click here.

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