Looking for Pain Relief? App Tells You Which Aisle in Walgreens

Photograph by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Walgreens has teamed up with Aisle411 to help shoppers locate whatever they’re looking for at each of the drugstore chain's stores.

If trying to find Tylenol or other products at a Walgreens store gives you a headache, the pharmacy said it has the remedy.

The largest U.S. drugstore chain has teamed up with Aisle411, a St. Louis-based mobile software developer, to help shoppers locate whatever they’re looking for at each of Walgreens’s 7,900-plus sites. With Aisle411’s latest app, a user can pull up a store’s floor plan and search for a product. A pin will drop onto the map to show which aisle it’s in.

“We’re very focused on making sure that products inside of our store become easier to find,” said Abhi Dhar, the chief technology officer for e-commerce at Walgreens, which is based in Deerfield, Illinois. The new maps for Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android smartphones will be available tomorrow.

Retailers are trying to improve the experience of shopping in their stores to fend off lower-cost rivals on the Web. If shoppers at Walgreens use the Aisle411 app instead of, say, Amazon.com’s bar code scanner, which lets users do price comparisons, the pharmacy could prevent its stores from becoming showrooms for items that are cheaper online.

For Aisle411, which has 18 employees and raised $5.9 million from private investors, Walgreens is by far the biggest retailer to offer its stores’ layouts and product data for use in the app, said Nathan Pettyjohn, the startup’s chief executive officer. Smaller partners include Ace Hardware and regional grocery stores Price Cutter and SuperValu’s Shop ‘n Save.

Aisle411 also provides maps in about a dozen cities for larger retailers, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. However, those maps are compiled from public information and are less accurate, Pettyjohn said.

Last week, Pettyjohn and I tested the new version of the Aisle411 app at a Walgreens in Palo Alto, California. On our shopping list: Advil and diapers (a natural combination). When cellular reception was available, rarely a guarantee in the Bay Area, the app was fairly snappy.

When Pettyjohn tapped the app’s checkbox to denote that we’d picked up the diapers, a banner ad at the bottom of the screen suggested we might want to also pick up baby wipes. Coca-Cola and General Mills have already signed on as advertisers, Pettyjohn said.

Dhar declined to discuss the financial arrangement Walgreens made with Aisle411 for sharing mapping information. Aisle411 would not say how many times its apps have been downloaded.

Walgreens’s own mobile apps, which let customers refill prescriptions and order photo prints, have been downloaded millions of times, said Tim McCauley, the retailer’s senior director for mobile commerce. He declined to give specific numbers.

“We’re doing very well with our own mobile apps, but we wanted to make sure that we were expanding on our reach,” McCauley said. “What we’re looking to do on this is drive additional trips to our store.”

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