Walgreens Opens Up to External Mobile Apps

The drugstore chain builds an open API layer that lets mobile app developers connect to its corporate systems.

Walgreens, the drugstore chain and $71.6 billion retailer, builds an open API layer that lets mobile app developers connect to its corporate systems. For example, Instagram app users can send their photos to Walgreens for printing.

The Project: Open Walgreens' application program interfaces (APIs) to third-party mobile apps. By building an "open API layer," companies can let external developers connect mobile apps to corporate systems and create new capabilities for customers.

The Business Case: Walgreens.com gets 12 million visitors per week, 36 percent of whom head directly to a local store. And those online visits are increasingly originating from mobile devices. "It's the perfect multichannel device," says Abhi Dhar, Walgreens' CTO of online technology. "Customers initiate a conversation and communicate an intention with the brand on the mobile device and finish it in the store."

The retailer had its own mobile development program, but Dhar wondered, "what if we could take any developer out there with a consumer engagement model and some creativity and enable them to send a customer to our store? We could expand that 12 million reach and expand that 36 percent."

First Steps: Walgreens partnered with Apigee to manage third-party developer interactions and launch its developer portal. The pharmacy chain's first open API, released in July 2012, was Walgreens QuickPrint, which lets customers send digital photos directly from popular apps like Instagram to a Walgreens store for printing and pickup. Another open API, which debuted in February, lets customers order prescription refills on their mobile devices.

Walgreens is considering other API opportunities as well. "Anything that can be initiated from the digital channel in a reliable, customer-friendly way--that's all on the radar," Dhar says.

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