business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Associated Press has a piece about how the nation's major drugstore chains are changing their approach to business, becoming more health and lifestyle oriented as they look to expand their appeal to shoppers.

Examples:

• "Rite Aid Corp., the nation's No. 3 chain, has converted more than 900 of its 4,615 locations to a "wellness" format it introduced in 2011. The stores offer organic soups, pastas and juices and a line of home fitness equipment including yoga mats and dumbbells that Rite Aid helped design. They also feature employees equipped with iPads to find and print coupons for customers, look up information on vitamins or enroll customers in services like automated pharmacy refills. Additionally, Rite Aid started a program in March that allows customers at about 70 of its stores to connect remotely with doctors for a video or phone consultation covering a range of ailments from allergies to the flu. The 10-minute virtual consultations with physicians, who are contracted by Rite Aid, cost $45. That compares with the more than $100 someone without insurance could pay for a doctor visit."

• CVS Caremark ... runs more than 650 MinuteClinics that are staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants and handle largely minor illnesses like pink eye. CVS also offers acne consultations and monitoring of chronic conditions such as diabetes. The company aims to operate about 1,500 MinuteClinics by 2017 ... The chain, which has more than 7,500 stores, also has introduced an urban store format stocked specifically for the needs of nearby customers at about 450 locations. That means providing more space for diapers and household products in areas where there are fewer grocery stores. These stores also peddle 'grab-and-go' meals like sandwiches and salads for customers who treat their locations more like a general store."

• "For its part, Walgreen Co. has opened 11 flagship stores across the country that offer extras like the barista-prepared coffee, juice and smoothie bars, and boutiques that provide services like eyebrow grooming and advisers who dole out information on beauty products. Some even come with humidors to hold cigar collections ... Walgreen also is expanding the scope of the small clinics it has in the back of hundreds of its stores to include the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of chronic diseases such as diabetes that are typically handled by doctors ... More broadly, Walgreen has launched a 'Well Experience' format in about 400 of its more than 8,000 stores nationwide. These stores feature expanded beauty options, fresh food and groceries, private rooms for pharmacist consultations and, in some cases, an iPad-toting employee to help customers."

These strategic moves are seen as "a response to the massive U.S. health care overhaul, which is expected to add about 25 million newly insured people who will need medical care and prescriptions. And drugstores are offering more services as a way to boost revenue in the face of competition from retailers such as Safeway and Wal-Mart that have added in-store pharmacies."
KC's View: