Walgreens Boots Alliance announced it is adding about 300 full-time technology jobs and establishing a Technology Center of Excellence in Chicago, according to a company press release.
Some of the new positions will be filled by existing technology employees who work at the Walgreens headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, while others will be filled by new hires.
The additional technology employees will work in support of Walgreens' drug store operations. The announcement was made in tandem with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who is currently trying to court Amazon to establish its second headquarters in the city.
The 19th century building where Walgreen's is establishing its Technology Center of Excellence has an interesting retail history. For decades, it was the home of the Carson Pirie Scott department store. It now houses a Target and is also home to the headquarters of online gift card marketplace Raise.com. Crain's Chicago Business noted that Walgreen's recently added to its space in the building by signing a five-year lease for 27,000 square feet on the fourth floor of the Sullivan Center. The new space had previously been leased by online gift-card marketplace Raise.com, which continues to be based in the building.
Regardless of the space, technology jobs in retail have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride as of late. Meijer has been cutting IT jobs, while Amazon continues to hire, and Hudson’s Bay Company and several other retailers are off-shoring technology jobs to take advantage of inexpensive but expert technology labor in "the Silicon Valley of India."
It may be Amazon that Walgreens has in mind as it looks to beef up its own technology team. Amazon is reportedly close to a decision about whether or not it will enter the pharmacy business, a market segment it has the potential to disrupt in the same way it has disrupted so many others.
This move may be an attempt by Walgreens to protect its turf, as it looks to develop new products, services and capabilities that will improve the pharmacy customer experience. Adding more technology employees should increase the retailer’s ability to beat Amazon to the punch — or at least help it keep up with whatever Amazon is planning.
Walgreens has as checkered a history with technology as perhaps any other long-time brick-and-mortar retailer. It shut down the Drugstore.com e-commerce site last year after acquiring it in 2011, but it has also been working on mobile apps capabilities like Pharmacy Chat that aim to improve the customer experience.
Aside from competition, Walgreens may also be looking to establish a glitzy new tech hub in downtown Chicago as a more enticing draw for young tech professionals in the city. If Amazon does happen to locate its second headquarters in Chicago, that could help create an even deeper pool for tech talent, but Walgreens will need to show it can compete to grab those hires.