In the e-commerce era, customers expect to be able to order and receive anything, anywhere at any time.
Most retailers have solved the first two pieces of the equation, with massive online catalogs and omnichannel fulfillment services that allow customers to pick up or receive orders at home, in store or at the curb.
Not as many, however, have tackled the “any time” dilemma. Shoppers can order products from nunchucks to refrigerators just about anywhere and have them delivered within a few hours. But they can typically only do so during store hours.
That’s not an unreasonable limitation, but Walgreens (NASDAQ: WBA) is getting rid of it anyway. The health and wellness retailer on Thursday introduced a 24/7 delivery service, offering delivery from nearly 400 stores in as little as an hour.
Participating 24-hour Walgreens stores will offer more than 27,000 items from groceries to over-the-counter medications to household essentials like toothbrushes and skincare products.
The service is available in most states but is not currently running in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia or Wyoming. Customers can place an order with the nearest store and have it fulfilled if they are within the delivery range.
Walgreens says it’s the first health and wellness retailer to offer such a service and that no other retailer offers as many items for round-the-clock delivery.
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“Taking care of health and well-being isn’t exclusive to business hours and needs can pop up at any time of day,” said Stefanie Kruse, group vice president of digital commerce at Walgreens. “That’s why we’re always looking for ways to enhance the customer experience with convenient and trusted solutions. As the place customers turn to for their last-minute needs, we know they will find value in being able to access the items they need most, no matter the hour, right to their door.”
The new service comes with a few asterisks, most notably around the delivery time. A note in the retailer’s announcement clarifies that one-hour delivery is available daily between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. when customers order $35 or more before taxes and after promotions.
Walgreens also said that some orders may not be eligible for one-hour delivery due to weather, holidays, delivery address or other constraints. Prescription orders are also ineligible, but the retailer has a separate service dedicated to same-day prescription delivery.
The company added that delivery hours and order cutoff times may vary by store and that the 24-hour service is based on courier availability. Walgreens employees will pick and pack the orders, but they will be delivered by DoorDash or Uber Eats drivers, Walgreens told USA Today.
For now, orders containing alcohol are ineligible for the service outside of stores in Illinois and Florida. Delivery hours for age-restricted items like alcohol may also vary by location, and those orders will require the customer to show ID or provide a signature.
Through Dec. 10, customers can get free delivery on orders of $20 or more by using the code “NOW20” on the retailer’s website.
While round-the-clock delivery remains a niche fulfillment method, some observers see promise in the premise.
“There are a lot of reasons I would want a Walgreens delivery at 3 in the morning,’’ remarked Jonah Ellin, chief product officer of retail data analytics firm 1010data.
Ellin added that over-the-counter health and wellness and convenience items could be the best sellers after hours. But he also questioned whether shoppers will be happy to pay a fee for rapid delivery.
“People are starting to differentiate between what they want and what they need fast, and what they’re willing to pay for,” Ellin said. “There aren't a lot of companies showing it’s profitable to be in that instant-delivery game.”
The launch of Walgreens 24/7 delivery comes about a year and a half after the retailer launched one-hour same-day delivery and a little over two years after it introduced a service that allows customers to pick up items in store in as little as 30 minutes.