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How private equity is gutting retail

New York (CNN Business)Walgreens is hoping a new slate of tech tools will help it build stronger relationships with customers and keep pace with the rapidly occurring tech transformation in the pharmacy industry.

Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) is implementing new customer analytics and outreach tools that will help it better understand and serve customers, thanks to a partnership with Microsoft (MSFT) and Adobe (ADBE). The new technology will allow Walgreens to compile data and create individual customer profiles — whether they shop in stores, online, through the mobile app or all three — and it will use that information to more frequently engage with customers.
In addition to providing a better customer experience, the tools may encourage customers to spend more and shop at Walgreens more frequently, by providing prescription refill reminders, product recommendations and advice and other services.

    The effort could be a much-needed boost to the beleaguered drug store giant.
    Walgreens, which operates its namesake chain in the United States and Boots pharmacies in the United Kingdom and Europe, was one of the worst performing stocks in the Dow last year and shares have fallen another 28% since the start of 2020. The company has struggled as lower-priced generic drugs and a decline in reimbursement rates for medications from state and federal government health care plans weigh on profits. Walgreens, like Rite Aid (RAD) and CVS (CVS), has also been hurt by increased pharmacy competition from Walmart and Amazon, which now owns online pharmacy PillPack.

    The new partnership will help put Walgreens’ digital capabilities on a more even playing field with those competitors, and also give it a leg up against digital pharmacy startups like Capsule.
    “I would say more than just competing, it will help us truly leapfrog (the competition) and get us into this space,” said Vineet Mehra, chief marketing officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance.

    The Walgreens app will now use Microsoft's customer relationship management tech to make better use of customers' shopping data.
    Mehra said Walgreens also has existing assets that will improve the effectiveness of the new technology, including customer data profiles of more than 100 million individuals globally and stores within 5 miles of nearly 80% of the US population. The company employs more than 80,000 pharmacists and other health care professionals, which customers will now be able to access for health advice or product recommendations both in-person or online.
    The new tools will use information that Walgreens customers provide through its loyalty program.
    Here’s how the technology could change a customer’s experience, according to Mehra: If a customer purchases Vitamin B every month, at the end of the month when they log in to the Walgreens website, their personalized landing page will show a variety of Vitamin B products to choose from.
    If that customer also browses Vitamin C products while shopping online but doesn’t purchase any, they might receive a text the next time they walk by a Walgreens store, letting them know the product they were interested in is in stock. When they go inside to buy the Vitamin C, the customer could also get a notification that the prescription they were set to pick up from the pharmacy the following day is actually ready to now. The pharmacist might let the customer know they’re due for a flu shot, since they got one at the same location the prior year.
    “As we know more and more about these folks, what you can expect from WBA is a complete transformation in how we market to customers,” Mehra said. “We’ll be doing it in a 1:1 way, giving them what they need in the way they need it, with experiences being much more tailored.”
    Groceries were hard to find for millions. Now it's getting even worse
    The goal with the new technology, Mehra said, is “mass personalization,” something many retailers aim to provide these days. The company wants to offer a personalized, individual experience to each of the company’s millions of customers.
    Digital capabilities are especially important during the coronavirus pandemic, when fewer consumers are shopping in stores and many have shifted purchasing habits to buy from new retailers or brands.

      “We talk about the old days of retail where (the retailer) gets to pick what to sell, where to sell it and when to sell it. That has completely flipped,” said Shelley Bransten, Microsoft’s vice president of global retail and consumer goods.
      “Consumers might not say, ‘I want personalization,’ but they’re making choices incredibly quickly based on: How relevant is this product for me? How relevant is the price to me? Can it get to me within an hour, or a day? The retailer being able to sense that and respond in real time is key,” Bransten said.
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      How private equity is gutting retail

      New York (CNN Business)Cirque du Soleil, the producer of a number of Las Vegas acrobatic shows, has filed for bankruptcy.

      In an announcement Monday, the Montreal-based company blamed its bankruptcy on the “immense disruption and forced show closures as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic” and is aiming to restructure its debt with assistance from the Canadian government and private equity firms.
      The filing comes three months after it temporarily suspended production of its shows, including six in Las Vegas. It also has about 10 shows on tour across the world, including “O,” “Michael Jackson One,” and “The Beatles LOVE.”

        Cirque entered a “stalking horse” bid from its largest backers, including a mix of multinational private equity firms from the United States, China and Canada for $20 million. That offer is intended to be a starting point in an auction to draw other bidders.
        The company has also received $300 million in fresh funding to “support a successful restart, provide relief for Cirque du Soleil’s affected employees and partners, and assume certain of the company’s outstanding liabilities,” it said in the release.

          Cirque is drowning in nearly $1 billion in debt, according to multiple reports. That’s becoming increasingly untenable as its productions remain suspended. To help stem the financial loss, Cirque has laid off roughly 3,500 employees.
          “For the past 36 years, Cirque du Soleil has been a highly successful and profitable organization,” said Daniel Lamarre, CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group in a release. “However, with zero revenues since the forced closure of all of our shows due to Covid-19, management had to act decisively to protect the company’s future.”
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