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Walmart plays catch-up in mobile pharmacy with new app features

Mobile is the latest weapon in Walmart’s arsenal as it continues to build a pharmacy business  and compete with leading drugstore chains.

Pharmacy services have been a focus for Walmart for several years, with the chain introducing $4 generic prescriptions, in-store health clinics and now mobile services, as it looks to lure customers away from the leading drugstore chains. While the discount giant recently added prescription refills and other pharmacy services to its mobile app for the first time, it has a long way to go to catch up with Walgreens, which see more than 40 percent of online prescription refills from mobile.

“We know more than 50 percent of our customers in stores have smartphones, and if you look at the age demographics of customers under the age of 35, that percentage goes up to 75 to 80 percent,” said Ravi Jariwala, San Francisco-based director of public relations at Walmart. “From our own usage, from having geofenced all of our stores, we know customers are using their phones inside our stores as well.

“[Mobile pharmacy services are] just a natural extension of being able to enhance and introduce some new functionality to the mobile app specific to pharmacy to give customers more convenience and help them manage their pharmacy experience.”

Order history
Walmart’s mobile pharmacy services were available on a limited basis during the testing phase. The new features were rolled out to all customers at the beginning of April.

Customers who have the Walmart app on their phones can now refill a prescription with just a few taps or scan the label on a prescription bottle to refill it. Users can refill any Walmart prescription without an account, view their order history, prescription expiration dates and how many refills they have left.

Additionally, users can transfer prescriptions from another pharmacy to Walmart via the app and browse the retailer’s assortment of $4 generic prescriptions.

With more than 4,500 pharmacies under the Walmart, Sam’s Club and Neighborhood Market banners, users can also find the closest and most convenient pharmacy.

Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid and a growing number of regional independent and chain pharmacies offer  mobile services. Some are robust than what Walmart is offering and include being able to use SMS to receive alerts when a prescription is ready or when it is time to take a medication.

In-store mode
For Walmart, the move into mobile pharmacy services is part of a bigger strategy to build a strong in-store app experience for customers that includes a price checker and aisle locator. The breadth of these services is what differentiates the Walmart app from other retailers’ offering mobile pharmacy services, per Mr. Jariwala.

“Where we are going from a mobile standpoint, so much of it is really designed to transform that in-store shopping experience,” Mr. Jariwala said. “How do we provide tools that make shopping with Walmart easier, faster and better and more convenient to save money.

“These mobile [pharmacy] features are very much in line with those overall mobile goals,” he said. “These mobile features continues to reinforce this notion we have one the broadest portfolios and one of the most comprehensive and versatile mobile apps that is available right now in the mobile space.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York