NPR logo

Walgreens Cashes In On Department Stores' Pain

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Walgreens Cashes In On Department Stores' Pain

Walgreens Cashes In On Department Stores' Pain

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


And some drug stores are experimenting on ways to keep customers in the store longer. The longer the customer stays - the thinking goes - the more that customer spends.

NPR's Brenda Salinas has more.

BRENDA SALINAS, BYLINE: Lunchtime customers rush in and out of the new Walgreens in Washington, D.C. Chinatown District. When they step through the sliding doors, they enter a flurry of activity.

They're getting coffee, fresh salads and sandwiches, frozen yogurt and icees...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi, ma'am. How are you?

SALINAS: Makeup and even a mid-day manicure.

This decked-out drugstore is one of nine so-called flagship locations around the country. The special amenities, they're not just for show.

BETH STILLER: Flagship stores are really our playground.

SALINAS: Beth Stiller is a Walgreens vice president.

STILLER: It is where the merchants in our business test new trends and innovations and new ideas and new product offerings, so it allows us to get to market quicker in more stores with new Product lines.

SALINAS: Stiller says Walgreens places its flagship locations in busy neighborhoods. This helps them generate sales data more quickly. The ideas that work get rolled out to its more than 8,000 stores.

But to get customers to try new products and services, you have to urge them to spend more time in the store.

Marshal Cohen is a chief retail analyst at NPD - an industry research group. He says Walgreens, the industry leader, is using the same strategy department stores used to rely on.

MARSHAL COHEN: Now it's really about trying to figure out how do we make it one-stop multiple shop, in other words, offer the consumer all kinds of reasons to come into the store and ultimately stay in the store longer. The longer consumers stay in the store, the more apt they are to spend more money.

SALINAS: Stiller says Walgreens has thought a lot about how to keep customers in the store. Every aspect of the D.C. store - from the amenities to the floor plan - serves this goal. But even so, Stiller acknowledges that tourists and office professionals are in a hurry.

STILLER: We make that really quick in and out experience convenient for them, so we'll have all that quick grab and go, great fresh food right near the door. So if they only have 20 minutes to get in and out of lunch, that's a really quick trip for them into the store.

SALINAS: On the floor devoted to beauty products, there is a big emphasis on natural light - it makes cosmetics look more flattering.

Stiller says these details make the shopping experience more enjoyable, and this creates an environment that people want to spend time in and return to.

Cohen says the new strategy in the drug store business is to replicate the convenience of big box stores, while mimicking the pleasant shopping experience of a department store.

COHEN: Retailers are exploring, the big ones, are exploring how to do it smaller and the smaller ones are trying to figure out how to do it bigger. So this is really about everybody trying to find growth and give conveniences and services to the consumer - to get them to come in, stay in and spend money.

SALINAS: Cohen says this plan has grown out of the retail industry's recent history. The recession and the popularity of online shopping has meant that brick-and-mortar stores have to give customers a reason to come in. By providing an engaging experience, they can get customers to stay in the store and even add a few extra items to their shopping basket.

Brenda Salinas, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.