Walgreens bets on Duane Reade mobile tests

Calvin Peters

Walgreens has begun rebranding Duane Reade stores, but it's not just the name that stands to change. Recent mobile promotions improved the drug chain's reach, drove sales and yielded impressive ROI.

The New York drug chain and its 250 stores, acquired by Walgreens (NYSE:WAG) in 2010, serve as a test lab of sorts when it comes to mobile and social initiatives, programs that could soon extend beyond Manhattan.

FierceMobileRetail spoke with Duane Reade's PR and Digital Marketing Director Calvin Peters, to find out more.

FierceMobileRetail: Duane Reade ran a promotion with Poncho this spring that sent weather alerts and promotions for allergy medication to shoppers' mobile devices. How did that program perform?

Calvin Peters: During just the first week of launch, from March 17-24, we saw 1,034 new accounts created for Poncho and about 910 of them are still active. It was all about actionable content.

A lot of what we do from a social perspective is mobile first. A big part of the Poncho activation was allowing us to be able to reach our consumers that have already provided a lot of useful information to the Poncho profile, and reaching them not only with relevant but actionable and value-added content that hit them throughout the day, [during] their daily routine when they really preferred to be hit with this particular information.

Emails sent out during this time saw a 60 percent open rate, and the SMS coupons sent had a 5 percent click-through rate throughout the entire activation.

It's one thing to provide relevant content, but it's another thing to provide actionable, value-added content throughout our consumers' daily routines. We really saw an increased engagement rate. That was obviously a win-win there, and fit into our overall strategy, and hopefully we'll be able to get to do more with Poncho moving forward.

FierceMobileRetail: Who are the DR VIPs and how did that program start?

Calvin Peters: When I started with the company in 2011, I didn't have a lot of resources available to me in terms of a team within Duane Reade. I was pretty much the person heading up social and public relations, so I had to find a way to move the needle for a regional retailer in terms of content. Content, along with context, was going to be king moving forward, and I needed to figure out a way to own narratives with limited resources.

The Duane Reade VIP team consists of New York metro area customers. In early 2012, we had a Facebook campaign asking social influencers in the New York metro area [to] become a Duane Reade VIP. We vetted each one, looking at if they were talking about Duane Reade, what were they saying, the sentiment and the engagement from their respective communities. (Duane Reade worked with the agency Collective Bias to recruit and compensate this group).

Today we have 15 dedicated Duane Reade VIPs. When we embark upon a social program we give them path to purchase insights and missions from a particular brand, and they help move the needle and start the conversation that a traditional pitch would've done previously from a traditional PR perspective. They work with us on a lot of corporate and vendor initiatives, they're invited to our biannual meeting where we sit down and we brainstorm different marketing initiatives. They give us great consumer feedback, social influencer feedback and give us tips on how their respective communities might respond to a specific message or different slant.

FierceMobileRetail: How is all of this is being tied into the in-store experience, and is that important to Duane Reade?

Calvin Peters: Yes, indeed. We've launched iBeacon technology in 10 stores in the New York metro area and we're getting interest from vendors already in terms of how they can participate in the iBeacon program. We've had an in-store presence continuously through the Get Social program, and we leverage a lot of on-site promotional events.

The iBeacons are still in test mode in terms of functionality and scale, but we do have plans to expand that functionality and scale. The only thing I can say is please stay tuned.

Last week we launched the Duane Reade Universal app on iPhone and iPad, and some new technology is coming through the Duane Reade app. We added the ability to clip coupons from the weekly ad and it gives customers data and feedback on the different coupons that they're utilizing. A promotion and offers icon was added specifically to the mobile app, and allows users to set preferences on what offers and promotions they want to see.

With the Duane Reade app releases, the iBeacon functionality and scale will increase.

FierceMobileRetail: The Poncho campaign has ended, what's next?

Calvin Peters: We recently finished up a RoC Skincare campaign as part of the Get Social with Duane Reade initiative that leveraged several social influencers to help promote their line of eye creams and retinol products that are sold at Duane Reade stores. This campaign generated more than 1 million page views and 221 total impressions on various social platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Adjusting for seasonality and trend, sales of RoC products at Duane Reade were significantly higher during the campaign period—more than 28 percent higher, or five times ROI—compared to the 13 weeks preceding the campaign, with sales lifts likely continuing past these dates.

A program to promote the Duane Reade store brand of legwear included a Twitter party that generated 40.7 million impressions and was the No. 2 trending topic that day. Key campaign results overall were more than 157.4 million impressions and increased sales 137 percent in the first week.

FierceMobileRetail: How is what you're doing in social and mobile at Duane Reade being carried through to Walgreens?

Calvin Peters: We're an incubator, we're a test ground for a lot of social and digital initiatives. A lot of the initiatives that are done from a social perspective at Duane Reade may, and most of the times do, find their way to Walgreens.