With a new CMO and by deploying new and better ecommerce technology and working more closely with Adobe, Rite Aid plans on gathering and synthesizing more customer data to build more personalized shopper and patient profiles.

It may be too little, too late to catch rivals CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., but drug store chain Rite Aid Corp. is serious about ramping up ecommerce.

Last week Rite Aid, which operates 2,469 stores in 18 states, announced a new deal with Amazon.com Inc. to launch Counter, Amazon’s “buy online, pick up in store” program. Counter is available at more than 100 U.S. Rite Aid stores, with a plan to deploy it at more than 1,500 Rite Aid locations by the end of 2019, Amazon says.

When a customer checks out on Amazon.com or the app, Counter will be one of the delivery locations available for her to choose, if it is available in her ZIP code. This is like Amazon’s Locker service, which also shows up as a delivery option on the checkout page. Unlike Amazon Locker, a person is staffing the pickup area.

Once the order is ready, the customer will receive an email with a bar code that her package is ready to be picked up, and the store hours. At the store, Rite Aid has signs directing the shopper where to pick up the order. The customer provides the bar code to a Rite Aid employee, who will scan it and give the shopper her package. Shoppers have 14 days to pick up an order.

“Being the first store partner for Counter in the U.S. is a differentiator for Rite Aid,” says executive vice president, pharmacy and retail operations Jocelyn Konrad.

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The launch of Counter is the most recent launch in a series of programs to expand ecommerce and digital marketing and keep pace with a rapidly changing digital healthcare market, CEO Joseph Standley told Wall Street analysts on Rite Aid’s recent first-quarter earnings call. “The key element of our strategy is to drive a digital transformation that delivers personalized and seamlessly connected experiences to our customers across all in-store and online touch points,” Standley told analysts.

In addition to participating in Amazon’s Counter program, Rite Aid also recently hired a new chief marketing officer with extensive ecommerce experience and this year is spending $250 million overall on store upgrades including $60 million on better digital technology, the retailer says. “Our fiscal 2020 capital expenditure plan is to spend $250 million, which includes $60 million for script file buys and investments in technology design to accelerate our digital and omni-channel offering,” Rite Aid chief financial officer Matthew Schroeder told analysts.

An undisclosed part of the money will be spent deploying new ecommerce and digital marketing technology from Adobe Inc. On June 19, Rite Aid, based in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, announced a new multiyear relationship with Adobe that centers on Rite Aid deploying Adobe Experience Cloud, an integrated suite of ecommerce, online marketing and web analytics products. Rite Aid has yet to release details on deploying the new Adobe technology, including the cost of installing and running Adobe Experience and a technology deployment timeline.

We will significantly grow our ecommerce business again this year.

By deploying new and better ecommerce technology and working more closely with Adobe, Rite Aid plans on gathering and synthesizing more customer data to build more personalized shopper and patient profiles. “Developing deeper relationships with our customers is a key focus for Rite Aid,” Standley says. “Establishing partnerships with brands like Adobe is critical to Rite Aid’s digital transformation and ability to deliver on the changing needs of today’s customers.”

Rite Aid also has hired Erik Keptner as the retailer’s new chief marketing and merchandising officer to oversee the company’s push into more digital healthcare and ecommerce.

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At Rite Aid, Keptner will be responsible for all aspects of marketing and merchandising, including ecommerce. He will report to chief operating officer Bryan Everett.

Keptner most recently worked as senior vice president of marketing for Wakefern Food Corp., a large retailer-owned cooperative with member companies that own and operate supermarkets. At Wakefern, he oversaw digital commerce and analytics, advertising, corporate merchandising and digital media.

Prior to Wakefern, Keptner worked at Ahold Delhaize and its Giant Food Stores division. There, he served in various roles of increasing responsibility, including executive vice president of marketing and senior vice president of sales, marketing and merchandising.

Rite Aid’s recent moves to bolster ecommerce come just about a year after Rite Aid completed the sale of about 1,932 stores and three distribution centers to Walgreens for about $4.4 billion and ended acquisition talks with grocer Albertsons Cos.

But even if Rite Aid is looking to develop more ecommerce capability and build a better omnichannel relationship with customers shopping its 2,469 stores, it remains to be seen if the company can catch Walgreens, CVS and Amazon.com, which last year spent about $753 million to acquire digital pharmacy PillPack.

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Currently, CVS has 9,900 stores and another 1,100 walk-in clinics. That brick-and-mortar base is about 4.5 times bigger than Rite Aid’s current store count. Walgreens, with 9,930 drug stores, also has four times as many locations as Rite Aid, including the 1,900 Rite Aid locations it acquired in 2018.

While Rite Aid is just looking to ramp up ecommerce, CVS and Walgreens already are in a tight battle to win market share—and the long-term loyalty of healthcare consumers. CVS, which closed its $67 billion acquisition of health insurer Aetna in December, in June announced plans to accelerate the rollout of HealthHubs, a concept store that will feature one-stop shopping for purchasing healthcare services, insurance and products. CVS is currently piloting HealthHubs at five locations in Houston, with plans to open additional HealthHubs in Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Tampa this year. CVS also plans to have 1,500 total HealthHubs operating by the end of 2021.

For its latest ecommerce move, Walgreens is teaming up with Narvar Inc.—a firm that provides post-purchase support to online retailers—to offer a package-pickup-and-return service for consumers at more than 8,000 Walgreens locations.

In April, Walgreens announced it will invest over $1 billion over the next several years in various ways to grow a retail business anchored in digital healthcare.

In the meantime, Rite Aid says it will find even more new ways to engage digital customers. For example, Rite Aid is matching recent moves by CVS and Walgreens to expedite faster home delivery of prescription drugs, including online refills.

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Not many details are yet available, but Rite Aid this year plans a pilot with Instacart, a same-day grocery delivery and pick-up service in the U.S. and Canada, to expedite home delivery. Rite Aid also plans to pilot a mobile checkout feature for shoppers, although details have yet to be released. “We know that today’s retail consumer is looking to shop and engage with a brand in a number of different ways,” Standley told analysts. “We will significantly grow our ecommerce business again this year, and we will continue developing our mobile capabilities.”

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